A plan to allow the construction of housing on prime agricultural land has withered on the vine following backlash from Ontario’s ag industry.
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image by Nicolás from Pixabay
“Ontario’s productive farmland is a scarce resource, making up less than five percent of all the land in the province. It is our unwavering position that agricultural production is the most valued and best use of this land,” the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) wrote back on May 18, 2023.
Backing up that statement, a whole host of ag associations and communities gathered to fight the Ontario government’s planned Bill 97, fearing the bill would weaken farmland protections.
In this plan, provincial Housing Minister Steve Clark noted that the proposal would allow farmers to sever a farm into three lots for children or workers to build homes upon—as a means for Ontario to reach a targeted goal of 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
On May 31, 2023, the provincial government backed away from Bill-97, canceling it after the backlash raised by the ag industry and by political critics calling the whole plan “clueless” on a key rural issue.
The National Farmers Union and other allies released a joint statement earlier stating that “Ontario’s productive farmland is a scarce resource… these policy changes put the sustainability of that land and the food system it provides at great risk.”
The main issue against Bill 97 was that by allowing the severing of farm property into lots, it would fragment the farmland and make it more difficult for farmers to do their jobs.
It was also feared that it would limit the growth of farms, drive the price of farmland up, lead to conflict between farmers and neighbours such as over noise and smells, and permanently take valuable land out of food production.
A statement from ag groups: “We understand—and support—the need to increase the housing supply in Ontario, but we also want to ensure that housing is developed without encroaching on Ontario’s farmland, which is our most precious natural resource.”
Peggy Brekveld, a northern Ontario dairy farmer and President of the OFA, offered that housing growth should be done in areas near those already settled where it is near necessary infrastructure such as water and sewage, not on existing farmland. “Housing needs can be met in serviced areas using much less land.”