1.1 Context

The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is one of the fastest growing regions in North America. It is also the destination of choice for many people and businesses relocating from other parts of Canada and around the world. They settle here because of the high quality of life and the economic opportunities. This is a place of prosperity where, through their skills and talents, people are building a great future for themselves.

Over the next quarter century, communities within the GGH will continue to experience the benefits that come with growth, including: vibrant, diversified communities and economies; new and expanded community services; and arts, culture and recreation facilities. However, without properly managing growth, communities will continue to experience the negative aspects associated with rapid growth, such as increased traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, and the disappearance of agricultural lands and natural resources.

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (this Plan) has been prepared under the Places to Grow Act, 2005 . It is a framework for implementing the Government of Ontario’s vision for building stronger, prosperous communities by better managing growth in this region to 2031. This is a plan that recognizes the realities facing our cities and smaller communities, and that acknowledges what governments can and cannot influence. It demonstrates leadership for improving the ways in which our cities, suburbs, towns, and villages will grow over the long-term.

This Plan will guide decisions on a wide range of issues – transportation, infrastructure planning, land-use planning, urban form, housing, natural heritage and resource protection – in the interest of promoting economic prosperity. It will create a clearer environment for investment decisions and will help secure the future prosperity of the GGH.

This Plan builds on other key government initiatives including: the Greenbelt Plan, Planning Act reform and the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS, 2005). This Plan does not replace municipal official plans, but works within the existing planning framework to provide growth management policy direction for the GGH.

This Plan reflects a shared vision amongst the Government of Ontario, the municipalities of the GGH and its residents. Successful implementation of this Plan’s vision will be dependent upon collaborative decision-making. In preparing for the future, it is essential that planning for the GGH take into account the importance, and the unique characteristics and strengths of its economy. These include:

  • A diverse economy supported by a wide array of manufacturing industries of which the largest is the automotive sector, and other key industry clusters such as financial and business services, hospitality and tourism, education and research, life sciences, information services, and agriculture;
  • An economy in transition, with economic activity and wealth increasingly generated by service and knowledge industries;
  • Trade that accounts for over half of Ontario’s GDP, over 90 per cent of which is with the United States; footnote 1
  • A highly educated workforce, whose social and economic diversity are critical factors for success in the growing knowledge economy;
  • Abundant natural heritage features and areas, and prime agricultural areas, and the government’s commitment to protecting them, as demonstrated through initiatives such as the Greenbelt Plan, which make our communities more attractive and healthier places to live and work;
  • Cultural amenities that offer the kinds of creative and recreational activities that attract knowledge workers.

The GGH must remain competitive with other city-regions. However, urban sprawl can affect its competitiveness. Despite its many assets, Ontario and the GGH face a number of challenges in sustaining and growing its economy:

  • Increasing numbers of automobiles are travelling over longer distances resulting in clogged transportation corridors, including those that provide access to our critical border crossings. Traffic congestion and the delay in movement of goods costs Ontario upwards of $5 billion in lost GDP each year; footnote 2
  • Attractive and efficient public transit is difficult to introduce into sprawling communities, and this limits our ability to respond effectively to growing traffic congestion issues;
  • Employment lands are being converted from their intended uses, thereby limiting future economic opportunities;
  • New infrastructure is being built to service lower-density areas, while existing infrastructure in the older parts of our communities remains underutilized;
  • 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.

Decades of neglect and lack of sufficient investment have resulted in the current infrastructure deficit. Tens of billions of dollars beyond current levels of investment will be required before the situation is back in balance. All levels of government are under pressure to meet public infrastructure needs. Additional support from federal partners; innovative, alternative partnership arrangements that protect the public interest; and the strategic staging of infrastructure investments are all required to respond to these challenges. Ultimately, better investment in our cities will help to mitigate sprawl. Enhancing infrastructure, integrating and improving transit systems, protecting valuable natural resources and strengthening local government will all go far towards the implementation of this Plan.
This Plan addresses these challenges through policy directions that –

  • direct growth to built-up areas where the capacity exists to best accommodate the expected population and employment growth, while providing strict criteria for settlement area boundary expansions
  • promote transit-supportive densities and a healthy mix of residential and employment land uses
  • preserve employment areas for future economic opportunities
  • identify and support a transportation network that links urban growth centres through an extensive multi-modal system anchored by efficient public transit, together with highway systems for moving people and goods
  • plan for community infrastructure to support growth
  • ensure sustainable water and wastewater services are available to support future growth
  • identify natural systems and prime agricultural areas, and enhance the conservation of these valuable resources
  • support the protection and conservation of water, energy, air and cultural heritage, as well as integrated approaches to waste management.

1.2 Vision for 2031

1.2.1 A Vision for the Greater Golden Horseshoe

More than anything, the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) will be a great place to live in 2031. Its communities will be supported by the pillars of a strong economy, a clean and healthy environment and social equity.

The GGH will offer a wide variety of choices for living. Thriving, livable, vibrant and productive urban and rural areas will foster community and individual well-being. The region will be supported by modern, well-maintained infrastructure built in accordance with a broad plan for growth. Residents will have easy access to shelter, food, education and health-care facilities, arts and recreation and information technology.

Getting around will be easy. An integrated transportation network will allow people choices for easy travel both within and between urban centres throughout the region. Public transit will be fast, convenient and affordable. Automobiles, while still a significant means of transport, will be only one of a variety of effective and well-used choices for transportation. Walking and cycling will be practical elements of our urban transportation systems.

A healthy natural environment with clean air, land and water will characterize the GGH. The Greenbelt, including significant natural features, such as the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment, has been enhanced and protected in perpetuity. These will form the key building blocks of the GGH’s natural systems. The GGH’s rivers and streams, forests and natural areas will be protected and accessible for residents to enjoy their beauty. Open spaces in our cities, towns and countryside will provide people with a sense of place.

Unique and high-quality agricultural lands will be protected for future generations. Farming will be productive, diverse and sustainable.

Urban centres will be characterized by vibrant and more compact settlement and development patterns and will provide a diversity of opportunities for living, working and enjoying culture. The evolving regional economy of the GGH will have matured into an economic powerhouse of global significance. It will function as Canada’s principal international gateway.

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton area will be a thriving metropolis with an extraordinary waterfront. At the heart of this metropolis will be Toronto, a celebrated centre of influence for commerce, culture and innovation. All of this will translate into a place where residents enjoy a high standard of living and an exceptional quality of life.

1.2.2 Guiding Principles

The vision for the GGH is grounded in the following principles that provide the basis for guiding decisions on how land is developed, resources are managed and public dollars invested:

  • Build compact, vibrant and complete communities.
  • Plan and manage growth to support a strong and competitive economy.
  • Protect, conserve, enhance and wisely use the valuable natural resources of land, air and water for current and future generations.
  • Optimize the use of existing and new infrastructure to support growth in a compact, efficient form.
  • Provide for different approaches to managing growth that recognize the diversity of communities in the GGH.
  • Promote collaboration among all sectors – government, private and non-profit –and residents to achieve the vision.

1.3 General Authority

This Plan for the GGH derives its authority from the Places to Grow Act, 2005 . This Plan is approved through an Order-in-Council made by the Lieutenant Governor in Council under that Act.
This Plan applies to the GGH lands designated by Ontario Regulation 416/05.

1.4 How to Read This Plan

This Plan consists of policies, schedules, definitions and appendices. It also includes non-policy contextual commentary to provide background and describe the intent of the policies. Terms in italics are defined in the Definitions section of this Plan.

This Plan informs decision-making regarding growth management in the GGH. It contains a set of policies for managing growth and development to the year 2031. While certain policies have specific target dates, the goals and policies of this Plan are intended to be achieved within the life of this Plan.

The land-use planning process within the GGH is governed primarily by the Planning Act and the Government of Ontario’s existing planning system.

The Provincial Policy Statement and Provincial Plans

The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) provides overall policy directions on matters of provincial interest related to land use and development in Ontario, and applies to the GGH. This Plan should be read in conjunction with the applicable PPS.

This Plan should also be read in conjunction with relevant provincial plans, including the Greenbelt, Niagara Escarpment, and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plans. These plans apply to parts of the GGH and provide specific policy on certain matters. This Plan, in conjunction with these other plans and the PPS, 2005 express the Government of Ontario’s interests and directions with regard to growth management in the GGH.

As provided for in the Places to Grow Act, 2005, this Plan prevails where there is a conflict between this Plan and the PPS. The only exception is where the conflict is between policies relating to the natural environment or human health. In that case, the direction that provides more protection to the natural environment or human health prevails. Similarly where there is a conflict between the Greenbelt, Niagara Escarpment or Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plans and this Plan regarding the natural environment or human health, then the direction that provides more protection to the natural environment or human health prevails. Detailed conflict provisions are set out in the Places to Grow Act, 2005 .


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph TD Economics. Ontario: The Land of Opportunity. September 2004, pg. 2
  • footnote[2] Back to paragraph Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Cost of Border Delays to Ontario. May 2004, pg. 8