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Ottawa throws lifeline to 50 Million Tree Program cut by Ontario government

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The federal government is putting up $15 million over four years to rescue the 50 Million Tree Program which was cut by the Ontario government of Premier Doug Ford in its last budget, CBC News has learned. 

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna made the announcement today in Ottawa, saying the new cash will extend the program for at least another four years.

She said in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday evening that preserving the program will mean cleaner air, a healthier environment and good local jobs.

“While Mr. Ford cuts programs that support tree planting … and tackling climate change, we will continue to invest in a clean future for our environment, our economy and our kids,” she said.

The 50 Million Tree Program had an annual budget of $4.7 million and had planted more than 27 million trees across the province since 2008. Its goal was to have 50 million planted by 2025.

But a day after Ontario’s budget was delivered, Forests Ontario, the non-profit group that oversees the program, was told funding for it was being eliminated.

This new funding will essentially support the planting and growth of 10 million trees, bringing the program’s total to 37 million. Support for the program beyond that target is not part of this announcement.

Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario, said it takes three to four years for a tree to go from seed to planting.

Every year, the four key nurseries in Ontario participating in the program cultivate 2.5 million seeds between them, which they nurse over three years until they are ready to be planted in their permanent settings.

The funding cut left 7.5 million saplings at various stages of growth in limbo, with nursery owners unsure how they were going to fund their crops until they were ready to plant.

Sustaining the program

Nurseries have been asking if they should be planting seeds to be ready for 2023, Keen said.

“If you don’t have the funding in place … nurseries are not going to plant.”

The new funding “is fantastic because it provides that assurance that there’s going to be funding in there to use up the stock that is currently in the ground and plant some more stock,” he said.

Ed Patchell, CEO of the Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville, Ont., also welcomes the funding. He told CBC News he has three million trees at his nursery at various stages of growth. He said he was unsure what to do with them but is pleased they will now be guaranteed a permanent home when they are ready to plant.

“I think it’s great that the feds have stepped up. I would like to see the province step up, to see a value in the program and contribute as well, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.

While nurseries now have the confidence to plant a crop now for delivery in 2023, Keen said it remains unclear if there will be funding next year to plant again.

About 40 per cent forest cover is needed to ensure forest sustainability, Keen said, and the average right now in southern Ontario is 26 per cent, with some areas as low as five per cent.

“The 50 Million Tree Program has been great, but we need to plant one billion trees to really get the forest canopy up in southern Ontario,” he said.

Balancing the budget

Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski told CBC in a statement that his government is focused on balancing the budget to “protect critical public services like health care and education.”

“In order to do this we have to maximize value for the taxpayer dollar,” he said. “We remind other levels of government that there is only one taxpayer, and that we have committed to balancing Ontario’s budget in a responsible manner.”

“Previous governments who did not share this commitment to fiscal restraint are responsible for saddling Ontario with a $347,000,000,000 debt.”

Yakabuski said that the 50 Million Tree Program only plants 2.5 million trees per year, while the forestry industry plants about 68 million trees annually.

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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