Context of the Greater Golden Horseshoe

The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), shown in Figure 1.1, the area to which the Growth Plan applies, is located in southern Ontario. Centred on the City of Toronto, the GGH covers almost 32,000 square kilometres and includes large cities, rapidly growing suburban municipalities, mid-sized centres, small towns and villages, and rural areas.

The GGH is Canada’s largest urbanized area and the economic engine of Ontario. In 2006, the population of the GGH was 8.4 million and home to two-thirds of the population of Ontario and nearly one-third of the total Canadian population. Economic activity in the GGH generates approximately two-thirds of Ontario’s and one-fifth of Canada’s GDP.[1]

Figure 1.1: The Greater Golden Horseshoe

The GGH contains some of the highest-quality farmland in Canada and its southern location ensures a longer growing season than in other parts of the country. The Growth Plan was developed in part as a response to the need to protect this farmland, as well as the region’s water resources and natural heritage, from urban development.[2]

Administratively, the GGH consists of 21 upper- and single-tier municipalities[3] and 89 lower-tier municipalities, for a total of 110 separate municipal jurisdictions in the GGH. These distinctions in governance structure are the source of some of the anomalies in planning the GGH. For example, Toronto is a single-tier municipality that is almost entirely built out, but Mississauga, the second-largest municipality in the region, which is also largely built out, is a lower-tier municipality within the larger Region of Peel. Toronto controls its own planning and development decisions, whereas many planning decisions for Mississauga are made by the Region of Peel, which has the authority to allocate growth or targets to Mississauga or to its other two constituent municipalities: the largely urbanized Brampton or the more rural Caledon. Other anomalies relate to the authority for creating or expanding infrastructure, which may be at the upper-tier level (as it is in Peel Region), or at the lower-tier level (as it is in the municipalities within Simcoe County).

The Growth Plan divides the region into the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring (see Figure 1.2). The Inner Ring municipalities are the Cities of Toronto and Hamilton and the Regional Municipalities of Halton, Peel, York, and Durham. These are the largest, fastest-growing and most urbanized municipalities in the GGH. The Outer Ring includes the counties of Brant, Dufferin, Haldimand, Northumberland, Peterborough, Simcoe, and Wellington, the cities of Barrie, Brantford, Guelph, Kawartha Lakes, Orillia, and Peterborough, and the regional municipalities of Niagara and Waterloo. Generally, the Outer Ring is less urban, less dense, and less populated and, with some important exceptions, is experiencing less growth pressure compared with the Inner Ring.

Figure 1.2: Inner Ring and Outer Ring single- and upper-tier municipalities

[2] For example, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006) states in its Introduction, “Urban sprawl contributes to the degradation of our natural environment, air quality and water resources, as well as the consumption of agricultural lands and other natural resources so critical to the future economy” (Section 1.1, emphasis added).
[3] Single-tier municipalities are typically large cities such as Toronto or Hamilton in which services are delivered by a single level of government and there is only one official plan; upper-tier municipalities are typically counties or regions such as York Region or Wellington County, within which are several lower-tier levels of municipal government; services in counties and regions are delivered by both upper-tier and lower-tier municipalities and each level of government has its own official plan.