Toronto-area regional councillors voted Wednesday to shoot down a proposal to allow development on 5,000 acres of farmland.

With the 15-9 vote, Halton Region — which encompasses Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills, all west of Toronto — becomes the second municipality in southern Ontario to avoid an urban boundary expansion. The decision flies in the face of the provincial government, which has pushed cities to open up more land for development, and is making pledges to increase housing supply ahead of this spring’s election. 

Environmental advocates and some councillors had argued that expanding urban boundaries was a bad idea amid the climate crisis: Ontario’s dwindling tracts of farmland can act as a carbon sink and source of local food, and car-reliant suburbs produce carbon emissions. Those in favour of the plan had argued that Halton needed to push outwards to have enough homes to meet demand over the next 30 years. 

“In Halton, we declared a climate emergency three years ago,” Oakville Mayor Rob Burton said in remarks to the regional council Wednesday. 

Burton said many councillors felt “discomfort” with the growth plan proposed by planning staff, which he said “did not appear as sustainable as could be preferred.”

In June 2020, the province ordered cities in the Greater Toronto Area, along with Hamilton and Niagara, to decide how they want to structure the next three decades of growth by this coming July. The process is part of a larger rewrite of the plan guiding land use and growth in the region, called the Greater Golden Horseshoe. 

This vote means regional staff will go back to the drawing board to find ways to fit denser housing on the land Halton has already set aside for development. 

Environmentalists have said the Ford government’s updates, which included new population growth projections that critics called overinflated, effectively stacked the deck to ensure more sprawl. The province instructed Halton to prepare for 1.1 million inhabitants by 2051, roughly double the 580,000 who live there now.

Last year, councillors in Hamilton voted against a similar expansion of urban boundaries, despite warnings from the provincial government that it would risk not having enough homes to accommodate population growth. At the time, Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark hinted that he might be willing to override Hamilton’s decision, but hasn’t done so yet. 

Clark’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Halton’s vote Thursday.

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