All By Itself

A closer look at the ramifications of the recent announcement that Caledon will break away from Peel Region.

September 8, 2023 | | Editor’s Desk

In a little more than a year, the town of Caledon will be pushed from the nest and forced to fly solo in the face of some very strong headwinds and weighted by some very heavy baggage. As Nicola Ross reports in this issue, Premier Doug Ford’s sudden decision to dissolve the Region of Peel comes burdened with other legislative edicts that strike at the heart of the town’s financial, social and environmental viability.

Along with imposing aggressive growth mandates – Caledon has been directed to double its current population to 150,000 by 2041 – the province is jeopardizing the town’s ability to protect its countryside.

Ford has been chipping away at environmental protections for some time now, first under cover of Covid and now ostensibly to deal with the housing shortage by fast tracking the construction of 1.5 million new homes in Ontario by 2031. But after undermining the role of conservation authorities and undercutting the Endangered Species Act among other changes, the premier may at last have gone a bridge too far with his increasingly flagrant incursions into the Greenbelt.

After the backlash to a 2018 leaked video of Ford telling developers he would “open a big chunk” of the Greenbelt for housing, Ford famously insisted, “The people have spoken – we won’t touch the Greenbelt.” Now, with the brazen swap of 7,400 acres out of the Greenbelt, that stealth attack has become a full-frontal assault, with the premier even more famously calling the Greenbelt “a scam.”

The land swap resulted in an investigation by Ontario’s auditor general who issued a scathing report, concluding that the move was not needed to meet the government’s housing goals and that it specifically favoured certain developers.

The report not only buttressed charges that private development interests are influencing government policy, but also revealed just how gravely Ford has underestimated popular support for the Greenbelt. In Caledon, the stakes could hardly be higher. About 80 per cent of the town falls within the Greenbelt. And those lands – its forests, meadows, farms, wildlife, rivers and wetlands – not only define the character of the town but also provide a carbon sink, clean water and other environmental benefits for its urban neighbours to the south, never mind valuable proximity to nature for the residents of those cities.

At this writing, a coalition of Caledon citizens, including former councillors and town staff, is galvanizing to protect the Greenbelt and their town. In conjunction with province-wide protests, their first move is a rally in Bolton on October 14. But their longer-term goal is to make sure residents’ voices and concerns are heard loud and clear as a freshly independent Caledon embarks on choppy and uncharted waters.

We wish them safe passage.

About the Author More by Signe Ball

Signe Ball is publisher/editor of In The Hills.

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