As the Ontario population grows, residents across the province are creatively rethinking what their communities could look like. Ontarians in urban and rural areas alike are trying to address the housing crisis, build vibrant, sustainable communities, preserve the precious farmlands and greenspace around them, and protect the natural environment. As the province enters an election, voters across Ontario are looking to the province for leadership and community support in building the communities we want.
Communities are fighting sprawl – and winning
Over the last four years, as municipalities review and update their growth plan, many communities have been voicing their needs and visions for more effective land use. Coalitions have emerged in Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton, Peel, York, Durham, Simcoe, and Orillia to organize around a community vision of growth within existing urban limits, instead of sprawls that eat into farmlands and greenspaces. Consisting of community groups, environmentalists, farmers, and housing advocates, these “Stop Sprawl” groups recognize the environmental, climate, health, and economic impacts of urban sprawl. They advocate for housing intensification instead of sprawl, preservation of Ontario’s class-A farmlands and the Greenbelt instead of subdivisions, and investments in walking, cycling, and public transit instead of widened roads and new highways.
And they have been successful. Hamilton was the first city to vote against expanding beyond the existing urban boundary, after fierce advocacy and effective organizing from community groups like Stop Sprawl HamOnt. Halton council recently followed Hamilton’s footstep, and thousands of residents in other municipalities in the Golden Horseshoe are writing letters, putting up lawn signs, and preparing delegations to urge their councillors to do the same. They want to reimagine their cities as vibrant, sustainable, and affordable communities, with a mix of housing and a proximity to good jobs, high-quality services, and reliable public transit.
Not surprisingly, developers and land speculators have not taken well to these organizing efforts. In Hamilton, developers hid behind the Hamilton Needs Housing coalition and mailed out thousands of fliers urging residents to vote to expand the urban boundary. Painting urban sprawl as the only answer to the affordable housing crisis, they tried to protect their unchecked ability to continue development on arable farmlands. Despite developers’ well-funded astroturfing efforts, over 90 per cent of Hamilton residents who responded to a city survey voiced support for not expanding the urban boundary, and the city council vote that followed reflected that input.
Ford’s loyalty is to developers, not communities
Under Doug Ford’s leadership, the Ontario government firmly stood behind developers and attempted to steamroll communities’ decisions. Conservative MPP representing Flamborough-Glanbrook, a riding in Hamilton, repeated the developers’ talking points, calling the community decision “anti-housing and anti-growth ideology.” Skelly’s constituents overwhelmingly voted to limit sprawl, but the MPP sided with wealthy developers against the wishes of her own constituents. As a result of Skelly’s intervention, the province threatened to override the city’s decision by sending Hamilton’s Official Plan to the Ontario Land Tribunal.
The housing affordability crisis in Ontario is real. We urgently need to meet Ontarians’ housing needs but should not fall for the Conservatives’ and developers’ reductive framing that the only way to do so is by paving over farmlands and greenspaces. The corporate drive for profit plays a large part in the housing shortage at hand, whether it’s through real estate speculation or actively limiting the housing supply to raise costs. Housing is a human right, and it’s time governments at all levels stepped up to take profit out of housing.
In its four years in power, the Ford government eagerly and shamelessly pushed forward developers’ unregulated sprawl agenda. It charged ahead with the construction of Highway 413 despite concerns about climate, biodiversity, pollution, and sprawl to line the pockets of eight land developers owning lands along the highway route. Ford also passed Bill 229, which slashed funding for Conservation Authorities and reduced their mandates, allowed development in environmentally sensitive lands, and downloaded responsibilities to municipalities with limited public input. The government also approved a record number of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs), fast-tracking developments while bypassing environmental concerns, community opposition, and adequate consultation with First Nations.
It’s time Ontarians demand better
We deserve to have a say on what our communities look like. Across Ontario, people are advocating for – and actively building – sustainable, affordable communities that protect farmlands, greenspaces, air, and water. Yet, in the last four years, the Ford government has repeatedly ignored their own constituents, stood against the public interest, and dismantled oversight and protection to line the pockets of developers and their corporate friends. As we head into a provincial election, we must demand better.
When candidates knock on your doors vying for your vote, ask them if they are committed to investing in affordable and sustainable communities. Specifically,
- How will they make housing affordable for both renters and owners, address homelessness, and control land speculation?
- How will they invest in local communities and curb urban sprawl?
- Do they receive donations from developers? How will they control the undue influence of developers and other corporate players in decision making?
- How will they protect Ontario’s farmland, greenspace, and ecosystems?
- How will they guarantee local communities have agency over decisions that affect them?
- How will they provide regulation and oversight of extractive industries such as water taking, gravel mining, etc.?
If you are in Hamilton, join the local campaign by the Council of Canadians Hamilton chapter and Hamilton 350 to reach voters in Flamborough-Glanbrook and unseat pro-sprawl MPP Donna Skelly.