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Destruction of the Greenbelt: Is it Worth it?

By Sara Dix

The Ontario Greenbelt is two million acres of protected land that should remain untouched by land developers as it is one of the most biologically rich areas that provides fresh air, clean water, and homes for wildlife. It is essential for the preservation and conservation of Ontario’s natural areas.

In September 2023, Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, announced the reversal of his government’s decision to open the Greenbelt to land development. This was followed shortly after by the resignation of the Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, Steve Clark.

This decision was the result of massive public criticism and reports that revealed concerning information regarding the government’s decision-making process over the past year.

The Land Swap Announcement

When the Ford government announced their plans to open up thousands of acres of Greenbelt land for development in November 2022, Municipal Affairs Minister, Steve Clark, argued that it was a step to tackle the housing crisis in Ontario by building 50,000 new homes.

The fifteen pieces of Greenbelt planned to be developed, totalling 7,400 acres, were located in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area and 9,400 acres would have been added from somewhere else, which defines the term: “land swap.”

Public Outcry

However, The Narwhal points out that “experts say you can’t just draw a line around a piece of land, say it’s protected and assume it will all work out – how that land is connected to what’s around it will also define how successful conservation efforts might be.” Therefore, the plan did not consider the impacts of removing this land in terms of preserving the natural state of the Greenbelt.

Among one of the groups to criticize the government’s decision, Parks Canada warned that the removal of land from the Greenbelt would mean “irreversible harm” to the Rouge Urban National Park and that the government had violated an agreement with Parks Canada by committing to the plan.

Even the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers condemned the land swap plan by stating that “converting Greenbelt lands to residential development will hinder Ontario’s carbon targets without providing economic return, nor reduce the cost of buying a new home.”

The former provincial planner, Victor Doyle, who is credited as an architect of the protected area stated that the land swap “threatens the stability and certainty of the Greenbelt…It undermines its permanency…creates an incredibly powerful precedent that will weaken the Greenbelt significantly.”

Meanwhile, multiple investigations into misconduct within the government’s decision-making process began in December 2022 that questioned the influence of certain developers.

Ford Government Corruption

The Ontario Integrity Commissioner, David Wake, began an investigation into whether Clark breached rules that forbids MPPs from “making decisions or using insider information to improperly further their interests, or those of other people.” This report found that Clark failed to ensure that the process was completed properly and that developers had direct access to political staff.

The next scathing report on the government’s conduct came from Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, which questioned how much the developers stood to gain from the Greenbelt land sales and whether the plan was created in the public’s interest. The report revealed that certain developers were given “preferential treatment” and had a direct impact on the government’s decision. Of the 7,400 acres of land, 92% could be tied to three developers who would have direct access to the housing market and for the owners of fifteen sites, there could be an $8.3 billion increase in the land’s value.

Support for Development

The main group who has fully supported opening the Greenbelt are the developers themselves. Many in this industry have despised the Greenbelt since its creation because it places limits on where the developers can build and many have pushed to have their own land removed. As a result, they were able to influence the provincial government by utilizing their lobbying power.

There was also support from municipal leaders such as former mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion, who agreed that the Greenbelt restrictions should be loosened to increase housing and preexisting infrastructure while maintaining the conservation efforts.

Is the Greenbelt Worth It?

The Greenbelt is worth it, frankly. It provides so much more than just land to develop into residential or commercial buildings and during a time when climate change is worsening, protecting as much wildlife and natural resources as possible is more essential than ever.

Women’s Health: The Next Step

By Josepha Esemogie

Every woman in Ontario deserves quality healthcare. Women in Ontario continue to experience health disparities that could be readily reduced. From research to treatment options to access to services and programs, many women are overlooked and underserved because healthcare has traditionally not considered the impact of sex and gender differences.

Our health system has not always understood the factors influencing women’s health status, with only 1.2 percent of Canada’s research chairs in women’s health. Will it ever be understood?

Health Gap

Ontario has a health gap problem, as shown in the healthcare system. Research shows that women’s needs, including physiological differences, cultural challenges, and life circumstances, are often not taken into consideration. Addressing health gaps in women’s health in Canada requires a comprehensive understanding of the numerous factors that contribute to disparities. Socioeconomic, cultural, and structural factors can influence these disparities, and for women in marginalized and disadvantaged communities, this gap is even wider. Some key areas where health gaps may exist for women in Ontario are.

  • Research: Historically, women have been underrepresented in clinical trials, leading to a lack of understanding of how specific treatments may affect them differently than men. Women are often overlooked in health research studies, yet they have different risk factors for certain diseases and may also respond differently to various treatments and medications. Until the 1990s, women were not included in most healthcare and medical research studies.
  • Mental Health: Women are more likely than men to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. The stigma surrounding mental health may prevent some women from seeking help. This also includes the trauma from domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment, which can have profound and lasting effects on women’s physical and mental health.

We can see the prevailing gap in many aspects, including chronic diseases, access to healthcare without geographical or financial barriers, and cultural sensitivity, and we, as Canadians, need to realize that we are failing Ontario women.

Addressing the Health Gap

Canadians are among the healthiest people in the world. Nonetheless, our health system has not always understood the factors which influence the health status of women, trans women, girls, and gender-diverse communities, nor has it addressed their issues concerning research, education, leadership, and health interventions.

Addressing health gaps in women’s health is essential to public health efforts in any country, including Canada. While Canada has made noteworthy progress in promoting gender equality and improving women’s health outcomes, more must be done.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health has done some research and made initiatives to address these gaps like the POWER study (Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report), a multi-year project funded by Echo: Improving Women’s Health in Ontario, an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care which produces a comprehensive report on women’s health. But is it enough?

These health gaps require a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving healthcare providers, policymakers, researchers, and communities. Initiatives focusing on education, awareness, and policy changes can contribute to narrowing the health gap in women’s health in Canada.

The Next Step

With all the initiatives and research the government has done, more is needed for the people of Ontario. To reach a certain point where the health gap is reduced, and the disparities are barely visible, the government would have to introduce new policies to make the gap less visible. Some of the changes could include:

  1. Address the Economic Disparities: Reduce health inequities resulting from women’s social roles and status; this includes promoting equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, and family-friendly workplace policies.
  2. Access to Healthcare Services: Service planning must consider the unique needs of diverse groups of women. Offer or subsidize childcare services for women with children so they can attend health and support services.
  3. Gender Responsive Policies: This includes policies on chronic conditions, reproductive health, maternal care, mental health, and violence prevention.

The inequities and disparities in the healthcare sector will only disappear once the government acts on new policies to help bridge this gap and create a new healthcare system that Canadians would be proud of.

Communities, countries, and the world are only as strong as their women’s health.

Alberta Ditching the CPP: Rooted in Western Alienation

By Stephanie Levett

Alberta’s ongoing negotiations with the Canadian federal government to leave the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) to create a provincial plan (APP) will have negative effects on hardworking Canadians contributing to the national program.

Recent calls for separation were initiated on the basis of the province’s higher rates of contribution. With supporters claiming it is an “obligation” for Alberta to opt out for higher benefits.

The current perceived benefits proposed by Premier Smith are unrealistic and brings to question the deficits this amendment would make, if approved.

But regardless of the debatable benefits or drawbacks, there is a looming issue that needs to be addressed first.

Vague Guidelines for Withdraw

The CPP Act does allow provinces to apply to withdraw from the national program if two requirements are met. The provincial government must provide 3 years’ written notice and arrangement for comparable benefits in lieu.

However, it is not that simple.

Given Alberta’s nearly 60 years of ‘marriage’ to the program, there are many considerations including the province’s entitlement of assets and the consequential deficits.

Consultation with Albertans and other Canadian provinces currently contributing to the program should not be overlooked. With the recent polls displaying a highly divided public opinion, it is clear that not everyone is enthusiastic about the APP.

Premier Smith’s Multi-Billion Dollar Promise

In a recent report, the Alberta government claims they are entitled to an astonishing $334 billion of the program’s net assets by January of 2027. This translates to over 50% of the fund’s total assets.

Alberta’s Premier Danielle Smith, a highly motivated, long-standing supporter of the separation, has proudly shared this estimated entitlement. In an effort to further convince Albertans of the perceived benefits, she has gone on to say that the APP would save Albertans $1400/year (5.91%), while other Canadians would see their annual contributions increase by $175/year (10.6%).

However, the feasibility of these estimations has become a subject of widespread skepticism.

Calculations conducted by outside organizations and individuals have resulted in lower estimations of entitlement. Trevor Tombe, an economist from the University of Calgary, concludes Alberta’s entitled is 20-25% of the CPP’s present assets. A dramatic difference to the suggested entitlements being shared by Smith’s government.

And there is danger in continuing to spread these conflicting estimations. With a tentatively referendum set for 2025, we cannot expect the public to make an informed vote on the issue without a clear numeric figure to vote on.

The Difference Between QPP and APP

Quebec’s pension plan (QPP) has been used as leverage to try and demonstrate that an agreement with the federal government is feasible and that the APP could be sustainable.

However, this comparison is far from realistic.

As Quebec opted out of the CPP at its point of introduction, in 1966. They have only ever contributed to their provincial plan, in comparison to Alberta who has been contributing to the CPP for nearly 60 years.

The idea behind the national program is that working Canadians contribute to the fund so when they retire, they have a financial safeguard. However, if Alberta ditches the CPP, taking their proposed entitlements, it will leave fellow Canadians with a deficit to fill.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Due to the vague requirements outlined in the CPP Act, Alberta’s case for leaving the national program must be considered by the federal government. However, underneath the debates of asset entitlement and the sustainability of the APP is a looming issue that cannot be overlooked.

The original initiative for the APP was introduced in “The Firewall Letter” by a group of Albertans in 2001 and was based on feelings of Western alienation. This is “the elephant in the room.”

This longstanding perception of Ottawa’s favouritism towards the Central provinces while punishing the West with “damaging federal policies” surfaces time and time again.

And now is the time to address it.

Given the unanimous distrust of Alberta’s claims of entitlement being “an impossible figure”, it is unlikely that the federal government will determine their entitlement to be anything close to the 53% which they proposed. Which will only further the frustrations between Alberta and Ottawa.

Therefore, the federal government must first address Alberta’s calls to renegotiate policies putting harmful restrictions on their economy and begin building better relations. Separation from the CPP will only create further divide and cause economy uncertainty for other Canadians.