Senator Rob Black is optimistic that his land use inquiry will spark discussion across Canada’s three levels of government.
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“Preserving our prime agricultural areas from growing urban development is essential,” Black said in the Senate on Oct. 6.
Why it matters: Canadian provinces face the dilemma of how to preserve farmland as the country’s population and need for housing grows.
“We need to implement strong land use policies and zoning regulations to ensure the protection of our agricultural heritage while providing the necessary framework for sustainable growth and fulfilling the needs of our increasing population,” said Black.
Over the last several years, urbanization, industrialization and changing climate patterns have shifted agricultural production, highlighting the need for a thoughtful and strategic pan-Canadian approach to land use management.
“This is a critical issue that affects people all over the world – land use management for food security and agricultural use,” he said.
“In a world grappling with challenges of feeding a growing population, Canada has a unique opportunity and responsibility to not only sustainably feed its people but contribute to the global efforts of eradicating hunger.”
Black said he isn’t looking for more regulation but rather some open conversation between the three levels of government on how to address the housing crisis without decimating the agricultural sector’s ability to maintain food security.
“We’re hearing (through the Senate soil study) about regenerative agriculture and the need for cattle to be grazing and the fact that grasslands help to mitigate climate change,” he said. “I hope the inquiry that I raised and the soil study may work in tandem over time when the soil study is done.”
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has emphasized the importance of farmland preservation to the provincial government. Ontario is one of seven regions in the world that grows more food than it can consume. That gives it export potential and the ability to address Canadian and global food security, OFA president Peggy Brekveld told Farmtario.
Ontario produces a range of produce, from grapes, field tomatoes and stone fruits in the southern part of the province to canola, wheat, lamb and beef in northern communities, in addition to year-round greenhouse production.
“Ontario grows 200 different products,” said Brekveld. “It’s that variety that makes us very special in Canada because we have such a vast landscape and climate because of the size and breadth of Ontario.”
Land use planning and its impact, from prime arable land to grazing and forage land, is a hot topic of conversation across Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia, where urban sprawl creates pressure.
“While land use planning is generally a provincial jurisdiction, there are ways the federal government and even the Senate can incentivize cities to build in and up, which protects farmland,” Brekveld said.
Farmers can make a difference in Ontario, Canada, and globally regarding food security, and they’re up for the challenge, she added, but it requires stability and confidence in their assets, including farmland.
“There is a role for farmers, and there’s a role for government to ensure the best for our agriculture community, as well as for food security and sustainability in this province.”
She reiterated that the province needs urban and rural housing, but there is only one landscape, and everything must fit in it.
“So, let’s have very healthy, long-term land use planning discussions about where we can grow the food to feed those cities and how we can best grow and improve and do cities and communities right.”