1 Introduction

1.1 The Greater Golden Horseshoe

The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) is one of the most dynamic and fast-growing regions in North America. It is 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 greater future for themselves.

The GGH has one of the world’s most vibrant and diverse economies – generating upwards of 25 per cent of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) footnote 1, it is the economic engine of Ontario. While the GGH’s competitive advantage has historically been its location in the heart of the Great Lakes region with close proximity to major United States markets, today the region is widely recognized for its highly-educated workforce and uniquely multicultural population, whose social and economic diversity are critical factors for success in a knowledge-based economy.

The GGH contains many of Ontario’s most significant ecological and hydrologic natural environments and scenic landscapes, including the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment and the other natural areas in the Greenbelt Area and beyond. These natural areas support biodiversity, provide drinking water for the region’s inhabitants, sustain its many resource-based industries, support recreational activities that benefit public health and overall quality of life, and help moderate the impacts of a changing climate.

The region also has some of Canada’s most important and productive farmland. Its fertile soil, moderate climate, abundant water resources, and proximity to markets support agricultural production that cannot be duplicated elsewhere in the country.

The First Nations and Métis communities within the Great Lakes region have a unique relationship with the land and its resources, which continues to shape the history and economy of the area today. Ontario, including the area covered by the A Place to Grow: The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, is largely covered by a number of Treaties that provide for treaty rights. In addition, Aboriginal communities may have Aboriginal rights within the Plan area. Ontario recognizes the unique role that Indigenous peoples have had and will continue to have in the growth and development of this region.

As the GGH grows and changes, we must continue to value what makes this region unique to ensure the sustained prosperity of Ontario, its people, and future generations. While growth is an important part of vibrant, diversified urban and rural communities and economies, the magnitude of growth that is expected over the coming decades for the GGH presents several challenges:

  • Increased demand for major infrastructure investments driven by population growth, the need to renew aging infrastructure and continuing infrastructure deficits associated with unmanaged growth, combined with relatively scarce financial resources, means an ever greater imperative to plan to optimize existing assets and make the best use of limited resources by considering full life cycle costs.
  • Increased traffic congestion, and the resulting delays in the movement of people and goods in the GGH, is costing billions of dollars in lost GDP every year.
  • Unmanaged growth can degrade the region’s air quality; water resources; natural heritage resources, such as rivers, lakes, woodlands, and wetlands; and cultural heritage resources.
  • The impacts of globalization are transforming the regional economy at a rapid pace, which makes long-term planning for employment more uncertain.
  • Rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses are on the rise in the region, in part due to growing rates of inactivity linked to low-density and automobile dependent development patterns.footnote 2
  • People over the age of 60 are expected to comprise over 25% of the population by 2041footnote 3, which will result in the need for more age-friendly development that can address their unique needs and circumstances. This will include a more appropriate range and mix of housing options, easier access to health care and other amenities, walkable built environments, and an age-friendly approach to community design that will meet the needs of people of all ages.
  • The finite supply of quality agricultural lands that feed the region and beyond must be protected to ensure a vibrant rural and productive agricultural economy and a secure food supply for future generations.
  • The impacts of a changing climate are already being felt. Communities and infrastructure must be adapted to be more resilient, greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy need to be reduced, and valuable water resources and natural areas need to be protected.

To address these challenges and ensure the protection and effective use of finite resources, A Place to Grow Plan, together with the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, builds on the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) to establish a unique land use planning framework for the GGH that supports the achievement of complete communities, a thriving economy, a clean and healthy environment, and social equity.

In implementing these provincial plans, the Province recognizes the importance of consulting with First Nations and Métis communities on planning matters that may affect their rights and interests. Provincial plans must be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

1.2 A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe

A Place to Grow is the Ontario government’s initiative to plan for growth and development in a way that supports economic prosperity, protects the environment, and helps communities achieve a high quality of life. The Places to Grow Act, 2005 enables the development of regional growth plans that guide government investments and land use planning policies.

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2006 (Growth Plan, 2006) was the first growth plan to provide a framework for implementing Ontario’s vision for building stronger, prosperous communities by better managing growth in this region. It established the long-term framework for where and how the region will grow, while recognizing the realities facing our cities and smaller communities and acknowledging what governments can and cannot influence. It also demonstrated leadership for improving the ways in which our cities, suburbs, towns, and villages will grow over the long-term.

The implementation of A Place to Grow is supported by Metrolinx (an agency of the Government of Ontario created to improve coordination and integration of all modes of transportation in the GTHA) and The Big Move (the GTHA’s first regional transportation plan). The Province has made significant investments in transit projects in the GTHA and beyond, and continues to invest in rapid transit projects to support the regional transit network.

Since the introduction of the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe in 2006, the region has seen a shift to more compact development patterns, a greater variety of housing options, more mixed-use development in urban growth centres and other strategic growth areas, and greater integration of transit and land use planning.

Despite these early successes, there is still more work to do. Now is the time to build on the progress that has been made towards the achievement of complete communities that are compact, transit-supportive, and make effective use of investments in infrastructure and public service facilities. At the same time, A Place to Grow will continue to ensure protection of our agricultural and natural areas and support climate change mitigation and adaptation as Ontario moves towards the goal of environmentally sustainable communities.

A Place to Grow (“this Plan”), builds upon the success of the initial Growth Plan, 2006 and responds to the key challenges that the region continues to face over the coming decades with enhanced policy directions.

1.2.1 Guiding principles

The successful realization of this vision for the GGH centres on effective collaboration amongst the Province, other levels of government, First Nations and Métis communities, residents, private and non-profit sectors across all industries, and other stakeholders. The policies of this Plan regarding how land is developed, resources are managed and protected, and public dollars are invested are based on the following principles:

  • Support the achievement of complete communities that are designed to support healthy and active living and meet people’s needs for daily living throughout an entire lifetime.
  • Prioritize intensification and higher densities in strategic growth areas to make efficient use of land and infrastructure and support transit viability.
  • Provide flexibility to capitalize on new economic and employment opportunities as they emerge, while providing certainty for traditional industries, including resource-based sectors.
  • Support a range and mix of housing options, including additional residential units and affordable housing, to serve all sizes, incomes, and ages of households.
  • Improve the integration of land use planning with planning and investment in infrastructure and public service facilities, including integrated service delivery through community hubs, by all levels of government.
  • Provide for different approaches to manage growth that recognize the diversity of communities in the GGH.
  • Protect and enhance natural heritage, hydrologic, and landform systems, features, and functions.
  • Support and enhance the long-term viability and productivity of agriculture by protecting prime agricultural areas and the agri-food network.
  • Conserve and promote cultural heritage resources to support the social, economic, and cultural well-being of all communities, including First Nations and Métis communities.
  • Integrate climate change considerations into planning and managing growth such as planning for more resilient communities and infrastructure – that are adaptive to the impacts of a changing climate – and moving towards environmentally sustainable communities by incorporating approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

1.2.2 Legislative authority

This Plan is issued under the authority of section 7 of the Places to Grow Act, 2005. It was approved through an Order in Council under that Act to come into effect on May 16, 2019. It was most recently amended through an Order in Council under that Act that came into effect on August 28, 2020. This Plan replaces the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2017 that took effect on July 1, 2017.

This Plan applies to the area designated by Ontario Regulation 416/05 as the Greater Golden Horseshoe growth plan area. All decisions in respect of the exercise of any authority that affects a planning matter will conform with this Plan, subject to any legislative or regulatory provisions providing otherwise.

1.2.3 How to read this Plan

This Plan informs decision-making regarding growth management and environmental protection in the GGH. It consists of policies, schedules, definitions, and appendices. It also includes non-policy contextual commentary to provide background and describe the purpose of the policies.

Relationship with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS)

The PPS provides overall policy directions on matters of provincial interest related to land use and development in Ontario, and applies to the GGH, except where this Plan or another provincial plan provides otherwise.

Like other provincial plans, this Plan builds upon the policy foundation provided by the PPS and provides additional and more specific land use planning policies to address issues facing specific geographic areas in Ontario. This Plan is to be read in conjunction with the PPS. The policies of this Plan take precedence over the policies of the PPS to the extent of any conflict, except where the relevant legislation provides otherwise. Where the policies of this Plan address the same, similar, related, or overlapping matters as policies in the PPS, applying the more specific policies of this Plan satisfies the requirements of the more general policies in the PPS. In contrast, where matters addressed in the PPS do not overlap with policies in this Plan, those PPS policies must be independently satisfied.

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.

Relationship with other Provincial Plans

This Plan must also be read in conjunction with other provincial plans as defined in the Planning Act that may apply within the same geography. Within the GGH, this includes the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Other provincial plans, including the Parkway Belt West Plan and Central Pickering Development Plan under the Ontario Planning and Development Act, 1994, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008 and some source protection plans under the Clean Water Act, 2006, also apply within the GGH. Each of these plans applies to certain defined parts of the GGH and provides specific policy on certain matters.

Within the Greenbelt Area, policies of this Plan that address the same, similar, related, or overlapping matters as the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, or the Niagara Escarpment Plan do not apply within that part of the Greenbelt Area covered by the relevant plan except where the policies of this Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, or the Niagara Escarpment Plan provide otherwise.

As provided in the Places to Grow Act, 2005, where there is a conflict between the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation, or Niagara Escarpment Plans and this Plan regarding the natural environment or human health, 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.

Horizon of this Plan

While the PPS, 2020 provides for a time horizon of up to 25 years for making sufficient land available to meet projected needs, policy 1.1.2 of the PPS, 2020 provides that a provincial plan may provide an alternate time horizon for specific areas of the province. Within the GGH, this Plan provides that the applicable time horizon for land use planning is 2051. While certain policies have specific target dates, the goals and policies of this Plan are intended to be achieved within the horizon of this Plan.

Nothing in this Plan limits the planning for infrastructure and public service facilities beyond the horizon of this Plan. However, planning for infrastructure will not predetermine the form, pattern, or extent of settlement area boundary expansions. Planning authorities may also plan for the long-term protection of employment areas provided lands are not designated beyond the horizon of this Plan.

Read the entire Plan

This Plan is to be read in its entirety and the relevant policies are to be applied to each situation. The language of each policy, including the policies in Section 5, will assist decision-makers in understanding how the policies are to be implemented.

While some policies refer to other policies for ease of use, these cross-references do not take away from the need to read the Plan as a whole. There is no implied priority in the order in which the policies appear.

Consider specific policy language

Each policy provides direction on how it is to be implemented, how it is situated within this Plan, and how it relates to other policies. The choice of language in the policies is intended to distinguish between the types of policies and the nature of implementation. For example, "will" and “shall” are used interchangeably for policies that indicate positive directives in the same way that just "shall" is generally used in other provincial plans. Similarly, expressions like “is not” and “will not be” are used for policies that set out limitations and prohibitions in the same way as "shall not" is generally used in other plans.

Policies represent minimum standards

The policies of this Plan represent minimum standards. Within the framework of the provincial policy-led planning system, decision-makers are encouraged to go beyond these minimum standards to address matters of importance, unless doing so would conflict with any policy of this Plan.

Defined terms and meanings

Italicized terms in this Plan are defined in Section 7. For non-italicized terms, the normal meaning of the word applies. Defined terms are intended to capture both singular and plural forms of these terms in the policies.

Supplementary direction

Supplementary Direction may be issued by the Minister or by other ministers of the Crown, where appropriate, in accordance with the policies of this Plan to provide technical information and criteria to facilitate the implementation of this Plan.

Guidance material

Guidance material may be issued to assist decision-makers with implementing the policies of this Plan. Information, technical criteria, and approaches outlined in guidance material are meant to support, but not add to or detract from, the policies of this Plan.


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph Calculated from Statistics Canada (Metropolitan Gross Domestic Product, 2014) and Conference Board of Canada (Metropolitan Outlook 1 & 2, 2014)
  • footnote[2] Back to paragraph “Improving Health by Design in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area. A Report of Medical Officers of Health in the GTHA”, Mowat, D. et al., 2014
  • footnote[3] Back to paragraph “Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Forecasts to 2041: Technical Report (November 2012) Addendum”, Hemson Consulting Ltd., 2013