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'Public has to speak up': Citizens rally against Greenbelt decision

More than 30 area residents demonstrate outside Newmarket-Aurora MPP office

Newmarket and area environmentalists came out in force to protest the government’s actions to open up the Greenbelt for development.

More than 30 people attended a protest event at the 16635 Yonge St. plaza near Newmarket-Aurora MPP Dawn Gallagher Murphy’s office. The protest aimed at the government refusing to reverse its action to open up the Greenbelt to housing development after an auditor general’s report blasted how the government handled that decision.

Organizer Melanie Duckett-Wilson also sought signatures for a petition. She said she hopes the event created more awareness about the issue. 

“I know it’s been plastered all over the internet and the news. However, the average Ontarian is extremely busy. There’s a lot of information that’s not being shared,” she said. “If you read quick headlines, you don’t get the full picture.” 

The auditor general’s report criticized the government’s decision to open the Greenbelt and indicated it was a political decision seemingly done at developers' behest. The report also noted that there is already enough land to meet provincial housing targets without using the Greenbelt. The government has agreed to accept the auditor general’s recommendations, except for one: consideration to reverse its decision to remove lands from the Greenbelt.

Attendee Martha Gilan said she hopes that politicians can feel the impact of this decision the next time voters go to the polls.

“In the meantime, these events and these peaceful demonstrations … will demonstrate to the politicians that it’s a really important issue," she said. 

Newmarket stands to be impacted by the Greenbelt decisions. Greenbelt land just west of Newmarket in King have been opened to development, with the province estimating 15,000 could come to the area. 

Asked about the protest ahead of the event, Gallagher Murphy defended the Greenbelt decisions due to the need for more housing.

“Premier (Doug) Ford has been clear: at a time when Ontario is experiencing unprecedented growth, it’s never been more important to deliver on our commitment to build at least 1.5 million homes,” she said. “We have accepted and will be implementing 14 of the 15 recommendations proposed in the report, but we also have to get building. As we work to fulfill our promise to build at least 1.5 million homes, we will do so in a way that builds public trust and confidence in the process.“

Protester Judy Debeer said she remains disappointed by the premier’s decisions.

“They keep saying housing,” she said. “We know there is enough land ready and waiting to be built for the houses we need in Ontario. We don’t need to touch our Greenbelt.” 

Duckett-Wilson said she hopes to present a petition to Gallagher Murphy on the matter that can then be provided to the provincial legislature.

Monica Woodley said she wants to see the government reverse its Greenbelt decision, but the public has to act.

“The public has to speak up,” she said. “Opposition parties have been trying, but the people have to work with them and really speak out as loudly as we can.”