A director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) said that in the wake of the auditor general’s Greenbelt report “a trust has been broken” between the farming community and the provincial government. 

“The premier made a promise,” Mark Reusser told CBC News. “The premier didn’t keep it. The government of Ontario made a promise to the people of Ontario that they would protect the land in the Greenbelt. They haven’t kept it.” 

“That, in my mind, further distances people from the government and increases their distrust of the people who govern us.”

Mark Reusser is a director with Ontario Federation of Agriculture in Waterloo Region and runs a farm himself. (James Chaarani/CBC)

A report released in early August by auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, showed that some developers with ties to the housing minister’s chief of staff, Ryan Amato had input into which lands in the Greenbelt land would be swapped out to make room for development. 

The provincial government had decided last year to swap out what was protected land to make way for 50,000 new homes. 

Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark said that they had no knowledge of the dealings. At a press conference following the release of the report, Ford stressed the need for housing.

“We know there are areas for improvement as we move forward,” said Ford. “We were moving fast. We could have had a better process.”

Of the 15 recommendations made in the report by Lysyk, Ford said they’d follow through with 14 of them. However, they didn’t agree to put the breaks on the land swap.

On Tuesday, Amato resigned. An investigation has been launched by the RCMP. 

According to the OFA, the province is already losing 319 acres of farmland daily, and is set to lose even more with the Greenbelt plan.

“I was initially surprised, but I probably shouldn’t have been,” said Reusser, who runs a farm in Waterloo Region. “I think we all had a good idea of what went on a while ago.”

Gerry Reid is a cash and horticultural crop farmer in Mono, Ont., in the Greenbelt. His family has been farming the land since 1845. 

Reid’s reaction to the auditor general’s findings was different than Reusser’s. 

“It was not surprising, what they saw, and taking party politics out of the whole thing: the problem with governments are they’re making decisions with their eyes closed and a hood over their head,” he said. “They really don’t know what’s happening out in the boonies, I guess, if you will.” 

He said he believes that “[governments] don’t know where their food comes” from and said that they “should walk five miles in somebody else’s shoes before you start making a decision for them.”

Gerry Reid operates Reid's Potatoes and Farm Market in Mono, Ont. He says he'd like to see the government better understand 'what's really happening on the farm.'
Gerry Reid, a farmer in Mono, Ont. says that he wasn’t surprised by the Greenbelt report. (James Chaarani/CBC)

Reid said that he originally didn’t support the idea of the Greenbelt policy in 2005 when it developed, “not that [they] didn’t want save the farmland and stuff because [they] certainly did,” he said, but because he predicted that developers would build on it anyway. 

“I don’t think there’s one party better than another party. I think they need to stick to their guns. Whatever they promise they should be living up to that.”

‘Why not my farm?’

James Richards of Am Braigh Farm — also in Mono and in the Greenbelt — said that he has no intention of getting rid of his farm and feels that the preservation of agricultural land is important, but doesn’t think the auditor general’s findings were fair to farmers prohibited to sell their land in this area. 

“I think from a farmer’s point of view, when you see, oh, all of a sudden what we thought was an ironclad guarantee that it wouldn’t be sold, well then all of a sudden there is some sales. From a farmer’s point of view, well, why there? Why not my farm?” 

When asked whether this report has influenced his trust in the provincial government, he laughed, but apologized for laughing. “Yeah, it’s hard to trust them,” he said.

Gerry Reid, who sells his potatoes at his farm market, says the government could do more to encourage the next generation of farmers.
Gerry Reid’s farm market in Mono, Ont. (James Chaarani/CBC)

Consequences for ‘democratic frustration’ 

Lydia Miljan, a political science professor at the University of Windsor said that there can be consequences to what she describes as “democratic frustration.” 

A woman wearing a denim jacket and a white and black striped shirt underneath
Lydia Miljan, a political science professor at the University of Windsor, believes that the way to mend the political distrust is through transparency. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

“What happens — at least we’ve seen in the past — is that people just stop being engaged,” she said. “That they think all politicians are the same, it doesn’t matter whether I vote or not.” 

“And we see that with declining voter turnout and it is problematic because then you have fewer and fewer people actually making the decisions for the rest of us.”

When it comes to gaining the political trust back, Miljan stresses the need for transparency.

“That you have rules, you apply those rules consistently and in an open manner so that people can see how decisions are made,” she said.

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