Sunday, June 23, 2024

What Colour Is Your Belt? Ontario Greenbelt

By K. Taylor, Aurora ON.  For reasons that eludes me, we are fond of describing tracts of land as “belts.” There’s America’s rust belt and the bible belt. Up here we have the snow belt and the ever contentious Ontario Greenbelt. Ah yes…the greenbelt.

The greenbelt,” you say scratching your head. “Yes I’ve heard of that, are we still talking about this?” Well apparently, yes we are. I too had thought it was done and dusted, as old and passe as the Jays World Series dreams, but it is newsworthy again. So armed with my mouse and a steaming mug of tea, I set forth to ask Google what all the fuss is about.

Firstly I needed to discern exactly what “The Greenbelt” entails. I knew the basics. It is a belt or tract of land. It is currently green (more or less) and a group of people want to keep it that way. Another group presumably, do not.

I should disclose here that my information comes from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation website; an assumedly biased group; after all it says so right in their name. Oddly I’ve yet to find an Enemy of the Greenbelt Foundation, so you work with what you have. Here’s what I’ve learned.

“But I miss the old St. John’s [sideroad]. The one with trees. With Canada geese crossing in natural harmony. Ok, I don’t miss the geese.”

The Ontario Greenbelt is a huge whack of land that stretches like a lazy ol’ dog across the living room rug that is Southern Ontario. It’s home to all sorts of cute critters like bunnies and chipmunks and really nice walking trails. But wait! There’s more! Not only do you get all these bunnies and chipmunks and forest bathing (great for stress relief!) But we’ll also throw in over five thousand farms. That’s right! Over five thousand farms. These agricultural hot spots produce everything from carrots to beef to peaches to wine. Think of the wine people! And this amazing tract of land, our pride and joy, is protected under the 2005 Greenbelt Act. Yay!

So, like, what’s the problem?

Well. Apparently there have been over 200 requests from developers to remove land from the Ontario Greenbelt. There is pressure on the government from lobby groups to loosen the rules. 130 of these requests are in the York Region area alone so this will certainly have an effect on our town. Now I have not seen every one of these requests. Perhaps I would support them if I did. Except for one thorny issue; protected land is just that – it is protected. As in: it has protection. As in: you do not chip away at it. No matter how good your reason. Building a hospice for arthritic cats? Sorry, there’s 46,000 hectares of available land outside the Ontario Greenbelt; your cats will have to go there.

I’m reminded (as I so often am) of food. Of that leftover pie in the fridge. “We’ll save that for later,” you think to yourself. Only every time you open the fridge you chip off a wee little bite here and a smidgeon there and before you can say “pass the whipped cream” there is no pie left and you look up to see an angry family scowling at you, and all you have to offer up in a box of stale cookies from the back of the cupboard. They’re mad. The pie is gone and it ain’t coming back. It happens. But it shouldn’t. It’s our job to protect that pie from all those little nibbles, be it with plastic wrap or legislation.

I do understand the argument that we need jobs; and one only has to look at the house prices to be sure that there must be a dearth of affordable living spaces everywhere this side of, oh, Saturn. You can’t stop progress! We say. Think of the economic growth! We argue.

Ontario Greenbelt

I get it and that all sounds great right up until I take a drive out along St. John’s Sideroad towards Leslie Street. The eye-twitching commences almost instantly and before I reach the peaceful rolling fields out by the highway I can feel my grumbling crotchety inner-self pushing to the surface. You can call me hypocritical -my home too was once on farmland after all- you can call me all sorts of things unprintable here; but I miss the old St. John’s. The one with trees. With Canada geese crossing in natural harmony. Ok, I don’t miss the geese. But some things are irreplaceable and in my book arable farmland and intact ecosystems comes pretty high up that list. I’d rather nurture what we have left.

So I propose it is our job to ensure this sensitive land (Ontario Greenbelt) remains protected and nurtured. That’s my take on it anyway. Yours may be different. And if you’re polite about it (and if you’re an Auroran then of course you are polite!) then I’d love to hear it. But more importantly let the province know. The public comment period is apparently open right up until Hallowe’en, by which point we will presumably all be on too much of a sugar high to care.

And now the night has worn on, the tea is gone and a glass of Niagara wine awaits. And maybe a slice of that pie, if we have any left.

K. Taylor
Aurora ON


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