Hamilton and Burlington mayors won't sacrifice greenbelt for Ford's open for business bill

The mayors of both Hamilton and Burlington say they're not interested in new "open for business" legislation if it means sacrificing land in Ontario's greenbelt.

The mayors of Hamilton and Burlington are both calling for the greenbelt to be preserved

The Greenbelt is a swath of protected wetland, forest and farmland that surround the GTHA, moving north to the Bruce Peninsula. (Friends of the Greenbelt)

The mayors of both Hamilton and Burlington say they're not interested in new "open for business" legislation if it means sacrificing land in Ontario's greenbelt.

Fred Eisenberger, mayor of Hamilton, says proposed Ontario PC legislation pits municipalities against each other. And it endangers the two million acres of green space protected by the province's greenbelt legislation.

Eisenberger said Hamilton doesn't need more urban sprawl.

"We don't need more development land," he said. "What we're attempting to do is develop smarter. Developing smarter means using existing infrastructure as much as humanly possible. So I would say no, leave the greenbelt alone."

The Doug Ford government tabled Bill 66 last week, otherwise known as the Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act.

The multifaceted omnibus bill aims to spur job-creating businesses and industries to build, expand and hire. If passed in February, municipalities can apply to the Minister of Municipal Affairs to be exempt from a list of laws. This includes sections of the Great Lakes Protection Act, the Clean Water Act and the Greenbelt Act.

In Hamilton, the greenbelt forms a horseshoe around Hamilton's urban core, encompassing much of the city's rural areas. Eisenberger acknowledges bypassing the "open for business" exemptions might make the city less competitive. 

"It really pits municipality against municipality," he said. "I would much rather they stick with a global Ontario policy around the greenbelt and the boundaries."

Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs, says Bill 66 isn't aimed at the greenbelt. He said it merely eliminates "duplicative and outdated regulations."

Businesses looking for sites could quality for streamlined municipal approvals, he said in an email. "We have been clear that we will protect the greenbelt and will not support proposals in contrast with that commitment."

In the past 15 years, he pointed out, the provincial Liberals "carved into the greenbelt at least 17 times, and have told municipalities what projects they were going to have in their communities."

Marianne Meed Ward, mayor of Burlington, took to Twitter about her fears with Bill 66. Burlington "will not be using the new powers outlined in Bill 66," she said.

Meed Ward won the October mayoral race on an anti-high rise platform. She says having to choose between downtown gentrification and building into the greenbelt "is a false choice."

"It's not either we rape our rural land and agricultural farming, or we jam in too much inappropriate housing for our people," she said. "We are taking our share of growth, and we continue to do so in the midrise form in the downtown."

"We can grow, we can develop, we can have affordable housing and we do not need to pave paradise in Burlington or anywhere else."

Brenda Johnson, councillor for Ward 11 (Glanbrook), agrees with Eisenberger's take.

The greenbelt isn't perfect, she said. The city has written to the province asking for some pieces of land to be removed and others added. But "overall, I think the concept is wonderful."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

With files from Haydn Watters

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.