Hundreds rally in Pickering to demand protection for the Greenbelt

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Published August 14, 2023 at 10:15 am

Several hundred people jammed a shopping plaza and busy Kingston Road in Pickering Sunday to protest the provincial government’s Greenbelt land swap and the removal of environmental protections from the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

The deal could make a few developers more than $8 billion in land value profits, with the majority of that new-found cash – more than $6 billion – linked to property in the agriculture preserve in Pickering.

That land was set aside for protection in 1999 and formally recognized in 2005. Last November those protections were unceremoniously eliminated.

The rally outside the office of Pickering-Uxbridge MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy (who also serves as Premier Doug Ford’s Finance Minister) was organized by Stop Sprawl Durham, a grassroots organization which is demanding permanent protection for the agricultural preserve.

The rally comes at the end of a rough week for the Premier after the release of a bombshell report from Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk that alleges preferential treatment to certain developers by the government in the controversial Greenbelt land swap.

Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe, who said last year he supported opening the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve for development, said the report raises “a number of concerns,” and released a statement that “neither the City nor its taxpayers should subsidize private interests.”

The rally attracted protesters from Pickering and nearby communities in Durham Region, as well as out-of-towners upset at the potential environmental dangers of removing protection from the agricultural preserve and the other Greenbelt lands.

One of those was Jonah Brooker-Nulman, a 17 year-old from Toronto who said in an interview with CBC he is “disgusted” by the provincial government’s action. “We’re starting to see what Mother Nature can do when we don’t listen.”

Lysyk’s 95-page report noted there is no evidence that removing land from the Greenbelt was needed to meet the government’s housing goals, a finding also made by the provincial government’s own housing affordability task force and municipal planners in several areas impacted by the deal, including Durham Region.

Lysyk made 15 recommendations in the report, but Premier Doug Ford said his government would implement just 14. Ford said he won’t reverse the decision to remove the Greenbelt lands, though he did give himself an out by warning the landowners they must begin work on building houses quickly.

“We need to build those homes, that is a message to the landowners that have these properties, you don’t get shovels in the ground, we don’t see progression, rapidly, that land is going back to the Greenbelt,” he said.

The lands, now called the Cherrywood development, could house as many as 30,000 homes when fully built out, with 1,200 proposed in the first phase.

While the NDP and Liberals have called for Clark to resign, there are no plans for anyone to quit yet over the controversy.

Stop Sprawl Durham, in a joint statement with fellow environmental group Rouge Duffins Greenspace Coalition, thanked Lysyk for her report, which contained findings “which confirm suspicions held by community members for many months” and called on the Province to “immediately reverse all Greenbelt land removals and return permanent protection” to the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

The groups also demanded Pickering Council, which unanimously condemned the removal of protections for the preserve. Ashe was at the meeting and voted in favour of the motion.

Ashe did not attend the rally. Bethlenfalvy was a no-show as well.

 

Protesters rallied in Pickering against the removal of protection for the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve in April as well

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