…We’ve Got Answers!
Q. What is Land Over Landings’ “Ag Study”?
In 2017 we prepared a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP) for a study to investigate the economic potential of the remaining Federal Lands, if protected for permanent agriculture. We put it out to public tender and accepted the proposal of Econometric Research Ltd and JRG Consulting Group. We called it our “Ag Study” (short for ‘agricultural’) as a working title. When the report was completed and released to our executive and VIP audience on April 3, 2018, the official title was “A Future for the Lands: Economic Impact of Remaining Pickering Federal Lands if Returned to Permanent Agriculture”. It was kind of a long name, so we still tend to just call it our “Ag Study”.
Q. Who were the consultants Land Over Landings hired to conduct their “Ag Study”?
Land Over Landings hired two leading economists to conduct the six-month study, Dr John Groenewegen and Dr Atif Kubursi.
Dr John Groenewegen is principal of the JRG Consulting Group, a consulting firm dedicated to helping the agri-food sector maximize its value and contribution to the overall economy. Prior to his consulting career, Dr Groenewegen held a variety of positions in economic analysis, policy, and commodity outlook in both Agriculture Canada and the United States Department of Agriculture. He has a doctorate (Ph.D.) in agricultural and applied economics from the University of Minnesota, and his first two degrees are in agricultural economics from the University of Guelph. He is also a Certified Management Consultant (CMC). Across the agri-food sector Dr Groenewegen has conducted various consulting projects including (but not limited to); economic impact studies, strategic planning and business planning, sector competitiveness reports and industry profiles, investment feasibility report, business viability, and market feasibility projects.
Dr Atif Kubursi is President of Econometric Research Ltd. (ERL) ERL, founded by Dr Kubursi in 1972, is one of Canada’s leading impact analysis firms. Key projects include assessing the economic significance and contribution of transportation activities and infrastructure to Canada’s competitive advantage, the economic impact of agriculture and food processing activities, tourism projects and flows, resource conservation, industrial development and community development within Canada.
Dr Kubursi is also a Professor (Emeritus) of Economics, McMaster University. He has taught/lectured economics at Purdue, Cambridge, and Harvard Universities, and served as an Acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. His main research interests are in the areas of development economics, ecological economics, natural resources, water and energy management systems, and economic policy.
Q. Why didn’t Land Over Landings ask the consultants to compare the economic benefit of agriculture with that of an airport?
Tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars have been spent by the Federal Government since the late Sixties – that’s half a century! – on studies to try and prove the business case for an airport. Another study is due to be released soon. And every one paid for from government coffers. Ours was the first to study the economic potential of the land if the airport was cancelled, and the land saved for agriculture, agri-business, and agri-tourism.
Q. What is North Pickering Farms (NPF)?
Land Over Landings has a vision for what these Federal Lands could be if returned to permanent agriculture, and if the perpetual pall of an airport was removed. The vision is largely based on our Ag Study. We call it North Pickering Farms. It is a concept, complete with a ‘vision map’, that demonstrates how the Lands could be returned to prosperity through agriculture, agri-business, and especially agri-tourism.
Q. Why did people in other provinces and even other countries donate to help fund Land Over Landings’ Ag Study?
Because after 47 years, the diaspora of those who were expropriated has spread that far! Because there is a huge community of citizen-based organizations all over the world fighting for farmland and against airport expansions. Because these are federal lands, owned by the people of Canada, and all Canadians have a right to be concerned in matters of food and water security, and climate change mitigation. Because some of our executive have family overseas.
Q. Are any executives (board members) of Land Over Landings farmers on the Federal Lands? (i.e. do they rent farmland or have an agricultural lease?)
No. You can read more here: https://landoverlandings.com/about-us/
Q. Are the executives (board members) of Land Over Landings original landowners?
One member of our executive was expropriated and was an original member of People or Planes. Another’s parents and yet another’s grandparents were expropriated and they were members of People or Planes. Feel free to read more here: https://landoverlandings.com/about-us/
Q. Is Land Over Landings the same as People or Planes?
Yes. And no. POP never went away. As the need changed, so did the group. In the early 2000s we needed to rebrand and refocus on saving the land, since by then there were so few people. The new name was suggested by original POPer Michael Robertson.
Q. Since Land Over Landings/People or Planes has been around for so long, are all your members older (no offence intended)?
None taken! Our oldest member, original Chair of POP, Doc Godfrey, is still with us in his 102nd year, as are many people in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties who were active members of POP in the 1970s. But we also have the next generation and the generation after — 47 years is a very long time. In fact, we believe we are the longest continuous protest movement in the history of Canada! POP began before there was the concept of climate change, when no one thought of things like food or water security, when “green” was just a colour. But the world has changed, and it’s safe to say it is the youngest generation that truly gets how important it is to win this fight.
And that’s why we have created a Youth Wing, so that younger people can use all the tools at their disposal to join this cause. They are students and young parents, entrepreneurs and farmers, business people and educators; some were born here and moved away, others came here from other countries and made this area their home.
Q. Is Land Over Landings a heavily funded lobby group?
HAHAHAHAHA!! Oh, you’re serious? No. If we were, it wouldn’t have taken us a year to raise $86K for our Ag Study.
Q. How is Land Over Landings funded?
We are an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization. We have no regular source of income and we are not a registered charity. All our money, even for our Ag Study, comes from individuals, community organizations, or volunteer not-for-profits like ours, such as Food and Water First. We have not received one penny from any level of government: in other words – no taxpayer dollars!
Compare that to the tens of millions, possibly hundreds of millions, of tax dollars spent over almost half a century by various levels of government trying to prove the need for an airport.
Compare it also to the glitzy “aerotropolis” event, held in Toronto in April by the City of Pickering and the Toronto Region Board of Trade. The presenters were sponsored by developers such as Fieldgate, Marshall Homes, TACC, and Sorbara, who, through their officers and employees, also donated (some heavily, when all totalled up) to the election campaigns of Pickering’s mayor and other Durham politicians who are now aggressively pushing for an airport!
Land Over Landings operates independently. We do not “owe” anything to any donor to our cause.
Q: Do you stand to profit from the status quo?
No. No one profits when a community is diminished and depleted, living under an ongoing cloud of uncertainty. We welcome the new 10-year agriculture leases for tenant farmers and hope they will instigate investment and entrepreneurship in the area. We would like nothing more than to see a thriving community on and around the Federal Lands once more
Q. Isn’t Land Over Landings just a “special interest” NIMBY group? Why aren’t you fighting for farmland everywhere?
Any cause that advocates for food-and-water security and is fighting climate change is, by definition, for everyone! If Land Over Landings wins its decades-long effort to save these Lands for permanent agriculture, everyone wins — especially the generations to come.
An airport, on the other hand, would benefit only the few while ruining the standard of living for the nearby human population as well as all who live in or enjoy visiting Rouge National Urban Park.
Our mandate since 1972 has been the safeguarding of these Federal Lands. Just as Save the Oak Ridges Moraine focusses on the ORM (while remaining concerned about water protection everywhere), and Friends of the Rouge Watershed advocate for the Rouge Valley (while being concerned about larger environmental issues), and the Durham Federation of Agriculture concentrates on issues in Durham Region (while working with the larger Ontario Federation of Agriculture), all advocacy groups and organizations have their focus and parameters. If we didn’t, we would spread ourselves too thin and achieve nothing.
Q. Do you have support from other organizations?
Yes! In addition to politicians from all parties at all levels, local farmer/entrepreneurs, and environmental and community groups, we also have the support (but no funding) from the largest agricultural organizations in the province and the most respected environmental and food-security advocates in the country — namely the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, and the National Farmers Union (Ontario), Environmental Defence Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Food Secure Canada. For a full list of our partners, please visit https://landoverlandings.com/about-us/our-partners/
Q. Is Land Over Landings opposed to airports and aviation in general?
No. Although we are deeply concerned about aviation’s carbon and other emissions and the climate crisis in general, our mandate is to oppose the construction of an airport (or any other development) on these 9000+ acres of federal land in North Pickering. Most of those acres are Class 1 farmland, the best there is.
Q. Where are the Federal Lands? Are they the same as “the Airport Lands” or “the Seaton Lands”?
On March 2, 1972, in a joint statement by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Premier William Davis, 18,600 acres in Pickering, Uxbridge, and Markham were expropriated by Ottawa for an airport, and a further 25,000 acres were expropriated by Ontario for a satellite city to support it, first called Cedarwood, then Cedarvale, and now Seaton.
The Federal Lands, commonly called ‘the Airport Lands’, were all north of Hwy 7. They were roughly bounded to the east by Brock Road (although they included the whole Hamlet of Brougham) and they extended unevenly well into Uxbridge Township to the north and York Region to the west. Transport Canada controlled the entire site until 2013 when the first 5,000 acres, all in York Region, were turned over to the new Rouge Urban National Park. In 2015 a further 5,200 acres, those in Uxbridge and northwest Pickering, were added to the park. The remaining lands are completely within Pickering, and are now known as ‘the Pickering Federal Lands’.
The provincial lands were all south of Hwy 7. In September 1975, when Premier Davis pulled the plug on the airport with the announcement that the Province would not take on the cost of infrastructure, the process began of dividing the provincial lands. Today, some are privately owned, some are owned by developers, and some by the City of Pickering or the Province. The new community of Seaton is being built now, and will be home to 70,000 people when complete.
Q. Is there farming now on the Federal Lands?
You bet there is! Despite an outrageous claim on the City of Pickering’s official Facebook page that there has been no farming in 40 years. (On being called out for this falsehood, the City dubbed it a ‘misstatement’.) The Lands have never ceased to be farmed. Not farmed as well as they could be, because of decades of short-term leases that prevented investment. But yes, they are farmed. All of them. In 2018, the Federal Government, for the first time, granted 10-year agricultural leases. Currently, there is a waiting list for them. Learn more: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/ontario/pickering-2030.html
Q. How many people live on the Lands?
That’s hard to answer. The rural community that was thriving here at the time of expropriation has been largely destroyed, along with the two halmets on the Lands. Altona has a hope of revitalization, now that it’s part of Rouge National Urban Park, but Brougham is barely hanging on by a thread. An unofficial policy of ‘bulldozer by stealth’ (MP Mark Holland’s description) and decades of mismanagement have resulted in the razing of hundreds of houses, business premises, and farm buildings. There are fewer than 200 homes on the Lands now and only a handful of businesses and farm buildings. There are no schools, and sadly, almost no children.
Q. Wouldn’t an airport provide more jobs?
It might. In theory. If it was ever built. The irony is that in the decades since expropriation was announced, the spectre of an airport has actually driven almost every business and job out of the area. This once-thriving, industrious, prosperous, rural community is now an economic and retail desert. Even if an airport got built, it would be years, possibly decades, away, and so would its jobs. Our vision for North Pickering Farms, on the other hand, could mean jobs being created almost immediately, and growing exponentially after that. And they would be sustainable, recession-proof jobs. Here’s a real-life example of how it could start: With the granting of 10-year agricultural leases in 2018, one farmer was motivated to hire a company to install tile drainage on his fields, at a cost of approximately $1000/acre. With his longer lease, the investment was worth undertaking. With even longer leases farmers could afford to have new wells drilled and new outbuildings constructed; they could maybe restore an existing house or establish a farm business; they could start to attract day trippers eager for an outing in the country and looking to buy local produce. The community of Brougham, with so many brownfield areas where structures used to be, could be revitalized. All of this activity produces jobs. And this is just the start.
Q. But isn’t Pearson at capacity?
No. Far from it. In its latest annual report (May, 2019), the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which operates Pearson, remains confident that no new airport will be needed needed in the foreseeable future to handle Toronto’s forecasted air traffic growth. “Pickering” was last mentioned in the GTAA’s annual report for 2006. The GTAA has two concerns, aside from the Authority’s massive $6 billion debt. Pearson’s charges per passenger are the highest on the continent, so they must continue to grow aggressively to reduce per-passenger costs. And because ground access is a looming bottleneck, they want to build “Union Station West” to enable access to the airport by bus, train, and mass transit, which will reduce road and parking congestion. Ontario’s latest Toronto transit expansion plan includes an eventual extension of the Eglinton crosstown line to Pearson airport. And the GTAA is finally starting to mention “climate change” which will affect aviation growth in the future.
Q. How would you feel about a “green airport”? And one that included farming?
A ‘green airport’ is current greenwashing jargon and a true oxymoron, designed to placate environmentalists. There is simply no such thing. The airport is a ‘bus stop’ for aircraft, which rely on the burning of fossil fuels. Until that part of the equation changes (and much else changes as well), no airport can come anywhere close to being considered green. Proponents also argue for indoor farming and greenhouses in and around the new airport, in an attempt to placate those who say we must protect farmland. The reality is that the same results could be achieved on concrete (say a defunct nuclear or car manufacturing site!). These lands of Class 1 soil are located in an area with optimum growing conditions provided by nature. Why destroy such a gift? Furthermore, we could never compete with the existing fruit and vegetable growing area of Niagara, where there are more frost-free days. Indoor/greenhouse farming requires the provision of costly energy to maintain optimum growing conditions. The rich soils and temperate climate of North Pickering can already grow 200+ food crops!
Q. Are there important watersheds on the Federal Lands?
Yes. The Rouge-Duffins system crisscrosses all of the Lands. The remaining Lands in Pickering are largely on the environmentally sensitive and critically important Oak Ridges Moraine, and home to the West Duffins Creek system, which was selected for the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Programme in 2006. The streams meander throughout the Lands and, if our North Pickering Farms’ vision were implemented, could be a northern continuation of the Seaton hiking trails south of Hwy 7. Currently, walking these beautiful creek valleys north of Hwy 7 is considered trespassing on Crown land.
Q. Did Mayor Dave Ryan really run on a platform of bringing an airport or ‘aerotropolis’ to Pickering?
While Mayor Ryan’s support for an airport is a well-known fact, it was not a visible part of his 2018 re-election campaign. For him or anyone else to state that his constituents support his pro-airport position and that’s why he was elected is patently false. When asked by the News Advertiser 1. “Why are you running for mayor?” And 2. “What are the top two issues in your city and how would you address them?”, the airport was not mentioned: https://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/8883322-pickering-election-candidate-dave-ryan/. Nor was it mentioned anywhere on his election site: http://www.daveryan.ca/.
As for an ‘aerotropolis,” that idea surfaced only this spring, long after the 2018 campaign was over.
Q. Why was the Regional Council motion in support of an airport introduced as an “emergency” and handed out at the meeting, rather than put on the agenda?
So far as we can ascertain, there can be only one reason – to prevent the public from finding out, contacting their elected representatives, packing the chambers, and making delegations.
The airport was not on the list of regional priorities drafted just a month prior. But do you know what was? Agriculture!
Your questions are important. Feel free to keep asking them. You can always reach us at email@example.com