Updated: Bill 66 is a threat for “anyone who eats in Ontario”

Update: Facing a storm of criticism, the Doug Ford government announced this week it will drop controversial Schedule 10, which would have allowed municipalities to pass bylaws to override environmental protection legislation

Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, was introduced on December 6, 2018 to facilitate development across the province. If passed, this legislation will threaten Ontario’s Greenbelt, our access to clean drinking water, and precious farmland.

Environmental lawyers are calling it “the biggest and most significant environmental rollback to occur in a generation,” and municipalities like Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo have already pledged to oppose the bill.

The Stop’s Farmers’ Market manager Cookie Roscoe has shared her thoughts on why opposing Bill 66 is essential to protect the health and nutrition of our communities.

Cookie Roscoe (left) at The Stop’s Farmers’ Market’s 10th anniversary

The Greenbelt is essential for anyone in Ontario who eats.

Before its inception, urban sprawl was simply eating up all available Class 1 farmland, and farmers were struggling to find affordable land to grow our food. Right around that time, The Stop was trying to build a new farmers’ market, but we were only able to find older farmers who had no desire to continue farming. Squeezed out by changing practices in food handling and the rising cost of transportation, the farmers told us, “If I had a kid that was interested in farming, I’d tell them to go into plumbing instead.”

Nevertheless, we persisted. We opened our market with 4 farms and a lot of foolish optimism. Now 12 years later—because of the preservation of Greenbelt farmlands—we have a farmers’ market with 60+ vendors, year-round local produce, and many young farmers on our roster and on our wait list.

Farmers Markets like The Stop’s have taught eaters the joy of connecting food to your health, and to the health of your neighbours. It’s been these connections between producers and chefs and consumers that have allowed our farms to thrive in thousands of ways.

Farming is now returning to our culture as a dignified career, where one can make a decent living, and the benefits of their healthy, local produce cascades throughout our communities. From engaging toddlers in their food choices, to helping seniors access fresh winter greens, the Greenbelt plays an important part every step of the way.

Preserving these lands is critical to keeping our air breathable and our food affordable. Greenbelt lands won’t survive political meddling like the proposed Bill 66, where farm land considered “important to businesses” will be exempted from environmental assessment and removed from Greenbelt protections. This is known as the “death by a thousand cuts” approach to eliminating what has been a very hard won and important victory for the environment and our city. Thousands of farms will be affected, and eventually lost, if we allow this bill to weaken our Greenbelt.

Bill 66 promotes knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing by pretending that there will always be cheap food from somewhere. That cost will first be borne by the most vulnerable in our society, and then by all of us. Allowing businesses to access Class 1 farmland by sidestepping environmental assessments, Bill 66 is a very dangerous step backwards, one that will most certainly raise the cost of food throughout Ontario and cause further loss of farms and farmers at the precise point when we should be turning to our newly developing asset of young people looking for ways to feed us without destroying our planet

While this bill may allow a select few businesses to open up for a short time, it will in no way serve those who eat in Ontario.

Are you concerned about Bill 66?

Submit your comments directly to the Environmental Registry of Ontario by 11:59 p.m. on January 20, 2019.

You can also sign a petition through the Stop Bill 66 campaign.