Has Ontario Run Out Of Places To Grow (Ian Urquart, The Toronto Star)

October 31, 2005: Has Ontario Run Out Of Places To Grow (Ian Urquart, The Toronto Star)

Has Ontario run out of places to grow?


In a move certain to stir controversy, the environmental commissioner releases a report today that challenges the provincial government's plans to accommodate an additional 4.4 million people in Ontario over the next 25 years.

“The issue of population growth is an enormously significant public policy choice that has received little debate,” says the annual report from Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller.

The report sections of which were obtained by the Toronto Star from ministry sources suggests the current rate off population growth is not sustainable and is putting undue pressure on the natural environment and on society.

“Unchecked growth affects not only a myriad of environmental issues but can also shape the character of Ontario irrevocably,” the report says.

It urges the provincial government to undertake further consultations before committing to the “burgeoning growth” of the population.

Ironically, the report comes on the heels of an announcement by federal Immigration Minister Joe Volpe that the ceiling for immigration will be raised next year from 245,000 people to 255,000 and could go over 300,000 in the coming years.

The environmental commissioner's report does not explicitly advocate curtailment of immigration, but it does take dead aim at the Places to Grow Act, passed earlier this year by the Ontario Legislature.

The act is a companion to the greenbelt legislation. The latter bans development in a belt of land around the Golden Horseshoe; the former allows for increased development in the lands encircled by the greenbelt.

Three-quarters of the 4.4 million new residents forecast for Ontario over the next 25 years are expected to settle in the greater Golden Horseshoe area. The Places to Grow Act is an attempt to accommodate them without contributing to urban sprawl.

Miller's report questions the very premise of the act, however, by noting it just assumes population growth “is a sound policy choice.

“From a strictly traditional economic perspective, this approach might be sound. From an ecological or sustainability perspective, this planning approach will fail in the long term.”

The environmental commissioner does not have a direct say in government policy. Whoever holds the position is responsible to the Legislature, not the government.

Further limiting Miller's influence on the provincial Liberal government is the fact that he was appointed by the Mike Harris Conservatives. Moreover, he is considered a buddy of the former premier.

Still, his annual report a critique of the environmental impaact of government policies usually gets considerable media attention and play on the floor of the Legislature.

The tangent Miller pursues in this year's report is unusually controversial, however, because it runs counter to the received political wisdom shared by all parties in the Legislature that immigratiotion is good for the province.

There are strong echoes in the report of “nativist” (or anti-immigration) sentiments expressed in the United States by groups like Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America (DASA) and Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS). They question the “sustainability” of the land if population is allowed to increase, as Miller's report does.

“Unending population growth and increasing levels of consumption together are the root causes of the vast majority of our environmental problems,” says SUSPS on its website.

“The more people we have, the more pressure we put on the environment, infrastructure and social fabric,” says the DASA website.

These groups deny being “anti-immigrant.”

But, of course, the way the population grows in Canada and the United States is largely through immigration, given the low birthrates of North America.