Canada: How Many More People Will Pack Into The Golden Horseshoe?

Last Updated: June 26 2013
Article by Dianne Saxe

Ontario has adopted the latest update of its Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan, from now until 2041. The Greater Golden Horseshoe is one of the fastest growing regions in North America. By 2031, the population of this area is forecast to grow by an additional 3.7 million (from 2001) to 11.5 million people, accounting for over 80 per cent of Ontario's population growth. By 2041, the Plan predicts 13.48 million people, 10.13 million of them in the Greater Toronto Area. Most of the growth is predicted to occur outside the current City of Toronto. Where will we put them all? And will the environmental impact be positive or dreadful?

"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....

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.


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;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;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."




The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Dianne Saxe
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