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Greenbelt housing needed due to rising immigration: Premier Ford

Ontario Premier Doug speaks during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday Nov. 7, 2022. Ford is justifying his proposal to remove a swath of land from the environmentally protected Greenbelt in order to build homes by saying the housing crisis has worsened and will become more dire because of increased immigration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford is justifying his proposal to remove land from the environmentally protected Greenbelt in order to build homes, saying the housing crisis has worsened and will become more dire because of increased immigration.

Ford said Monday that he welcomes a recent federal government announcement that it is seeking to boost immigration levels, bringing in 500,000 people in 2025.

But, he said, if hundreds of thousands of additional newcomers a year start arriving in Ontario, there isn't going to be anywhere to house them.

"I'm out here all the time saying we need more people ... We need 385,000 people to fill the jobs," Ford said during an unrelated news conference, delivering his oft-cited message about a labour shortage in Ontario.

Some 300,000 of the newcomers will land in Ontario, Ford said. 

"Where are we going to put 300,000 people a year, almost a million people in three years, because of the inaction of previous governments that didn't want to take the bold steps to get housing built?" he said. 

"We are going to make sure we get housing built."

The province announced Friday that it is proposing to remove land from the Greenbelt, which was created to protect environmentally sensitive regions from development, in order to build at least 50,000 new homes, while adding new land to it elsewhere.

It's a step the government vowed last year not to take.

Ford said Monday that the situation has changed.

"We're in an unprecedented time when it comes to housing," he said. "We have a housing crisis today that we didn't have four years ago."

The province has launched a 30-day consultation on removing about 7,400 acres in 15 different areas from the Greenbelt, and adding 9,400 acres elsewhere. That comes as it has set a target of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

Opposition politicians and environmental groups criticized last week's announcement, saying it will harm the Greenbelt and its role in stopping sprawl and protecting farmland, forests and drinking water.

"The government should be ashamed and the people of Ontario should be outraged," Phil Pothen, Environmental Defence's Ontario environment program manager wrote in a statement.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said Monday that now that Ford backtracked on a law that imposed contracts on education workers –  by promising to repeal it – he should now turn his attention to the Greenbelt.

"The Premier has shown that he can admit when he is wrong – and carving off parcels of the Greenbelt as gifts to pro-sprawl developers and wealthy land speculators is the definition of wrong," he wrote in a statement.

Ontario created the Greenbelt in 2005 to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area from development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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