Do more with less” is without a doubt the overarching theme for Canadian agriculture in 2022.
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Although that exact phrase may not always be used, its sentiment has been consistent.
Farmers and those working in the agriculture industry have been bombarded with information and commentary about how the climate is in crisis, and that they will have to grow food in a more sustainable way.
And not only do that, but increase their production as well to help feed the province’s population, which is projected to grow to 21.4 million people by 2043, more than six million more people than live in the province now.
This is why I think the Ontario government’s “More Homes Built Faster” Act, or Bill 23, is so outrageous.
How can Ontario farmers meet the demands that will be placed on them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce more food if houses eat up what little farmland is left?
The 2021 Census of Agriculture released earlier this year showed that Ontario is losing an average of 319 acres of productive farmland every day. According to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Ontario has lost 1.5 million acres of productive farmland since 1996, “an area roughly the size of Toronto, Peel Region, Halton Region, Waterloo Region, Hamilton and Niagara Region combined.”
Ironically, these are the areas targeted for expansion under Bill 23.
Bill 23 aims to build 1.5 million homes in the province over the next 10 years, and will remove 7,000 acres of what was supposed to be protected land out of the province’s Greenbelt.
No one disputes that more housing is needed if the provincial population is increasing, but will all of these new Ontarians need detached houses? Housing has become unaffordable to so many in Canada, and Ontario, particularly the Greater Toronto Region, has some of the highest-priced real estate in the country.
A large proportion of new Ontarians will be immigrants. Many will find jobs as skilled labour, but many will be unskilled, and given the on-average $1 million price tag on houses in the GTA, I don’t see many buying a new house for a few years at least. Even an older house may be unattainable. They will rent. So who will be buying all of these new houses?
As the child of an immigrant I just can’t wrap my head the notion of more urban sprawl. When he brought his wife and children to Canada from Denmark in the late 1950s, my grandfather got a job at a factory in Cambridge, because he could speak a little German and the area they lived in at the time had a lot of German-speaking residents. He learned English on the job as quickly as he could and the family rented a house for several years, taking in other immigrant borders to help save up for a house.
My mom’s family was part of an immigration wave post World War II when Europe was in tatters economically and manufacturing in Ontario was booming. My grandfather, like many new immigrants, wanted to provide a better life for his family. Many ended up in cities, in smaller houses or apartments, and the next generation did the same. Not everyone moved to the country or smaller towns, especially if they worked in the city.
As our cover story outlined in our Nov. 28 issue, agriculture is one industry in the province that is desperately short of labour, particularly in the food and beverage manufacturing sector.
This sector is concentrated in urban areas in the province – particularly the Vaughn area of Toronto and the Halton region.
OFA statistics show that agriculture and food is a major economic driver contributing $47 billion annually to the provincial economy, and employs nearly one million people, and more are needed. For our cover story in our last issue, Food Processing Skills Canada Project Manager Kevin Elder told Farmtario that transportation to food and beverage manufacturing plants for workers is a significant barrier. Public transportation doesn’t often service the suburbs.
Despite cries from agricultural groups, municipalities, land-use planning experts and many others, Bill 23 received Royal Assent Nov. 28.
What Premier Ford touted as necessary legislation to build the province’s economy has been all smoke and mirrors.
I think the Ontario Green Party summed it up best in a release the day of the Bill’s passing: “Bill 23 makes way for land speculators to privately profit from the public value of protected land. What seems clear is the government’s decision to rush Bill 23 through Committee and avoid as much backlash as possible was because this bill was drafted for land speculators to cash in, while people pay the price.”
In an open letter to the Premier on farmland preservation, the OFA wrote: “The loss of thousands of acres of agricultural land has the potential to jeopardize our domestic supply chain and local food production. The impact will be felt on consumers today and for future generations.”
Time will show us how difficult, or impossible, it will become for Ontario farmers in the future to “do more with less.”