What to know
- Bill 23 rewrites several municipalities’ Official Plans, approving more sprawl and expanding the urban boundary despite a firm ‘no’ from municipalities and communities.
- Bill 23 gives developers free range for “unrestricted development” with no meaningful input or control from affected communities, reclassifies wetlands and weakens their protection, and weakens Conservation Authorities’ ability to protect natural infrastructure.
- The bill reduces or eliminates development charges, starving municipalities and communities of much-needed revenue.
- Ford and Conservative majority and are acting in the best interests of developers and lobbyists, not the people of Ontario.
- All is not lost. Municipalities and communities are fighting back and we can join them.
The day after municipalities across Ontario held their elections, Doug Ford and his government tabled Bill 23, part of an all-out attack on environmental protection, climate action, and democracy. The new bill, along with a host of changes to other acts and regulations announced at the same time, will result in an important loss of biodiversity and productive farmland, more urban sprawl, poorly designed and poorly serviced communities, and significant increases to municipal tax and utility rates. Big developers are thrilled with these changes – but they are the only ones.
Ford’s sprawl agenda is an all-out attack on environmental protection
Bill 23 and the Greenbelt attack were put forward under the pretense of building more homes and addressing the housing crisis. In reality, the legislation serves to pave the way for sprawling developments on greenspaces, wetlands, and farmlands. This urban sprawl agenda, motivated by developers’ profit, puts future generations at risk for the short-term gains of a handful of already wealthy people and businesses.
More affordable housing is needed, but that’s not what the bill is providing
Bill 23 starves municipalities of critical funding
Developers are the only ones celebrating
Developers, on the other hand, come out on top. Bill 23 scraps many of the checks and balances that were put in place to control bad development and sprawl. Developers can now bypass local planning rules, community consultation, wetlands and other protection regulations, before building homes. They also pay less in development charges and parkland fees to municipalities. This carte blanche permission comes with no strings attached, as there is little requirement to build more affordable housing or to avoid more sprawling single-family subdivisions.
The development industry has had a strong record of manipulating government and public opinion. Horizon Ottawa conducted a review of publicly available donation records in the 2018 Ottawa municipal election and found that 18 out of 24 members of the Ottawa city council received donations from developers. Specifically, eight out of nine members of the Planning Committee, which makes decisions on housing development proposals, took contributions from the development industry. In fact, many of these campaigns were primarily financed by developer donations. In Hamilton, in the heat of the public debate about whether the city should extend its urban boundaries, eight major developers created an astroturf group called Hamilton Needs Housing and aggressively ran ads and commissioned polls to convince the public of grassroots support for more sprawl.
When it comes to the Greenbelt land grab, developer influence is even clearer. A joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the Narwhal showed that a prominent developer paid $80 million for a piece of land in the Greenbelt that could not be developed. A few weeks later, the value of the land skyrocketed when Ford announced his plan to open up parts of the Greenbelt for development. Ontario Integrity Commissioner and the Auditor General have launched an investigation into the Greenbelt decision, and the federal government has signalled they might intervene.
Municipalities can fight back
All is not yet lost. Communities understand the threat posed by Bill 23, and opposition has been fierce. Residents across the province hosted countless pop-up rallies outside their Members of Provincial Parliament’s office. Housing advocates, farmers, environmentalists, labour unions, Council of Canadians chapters, and everyday Ontarians came together to oppose the Bill, and opposition is still strong despite the bill’s passage. Efforts across the province are continuing to apply pressure on PC MPPs to remain accountable to their constituents.
The Council of Canadians recently joined the Alliance for a Liveable Ontario, a broad-based coalition that brings together local and regional groups to fight Bill 23 and work towards a common vision of Ontario that put communities before profit. A hub of actions in opposition to Ford’s sprawl agenda, you can find a list of actions, events, and connect with member groups here.
Ford’s all-out attack on municipalities has forced many local elected officials to speak up in opposition to Bill 23 and its sprawl agenda. While some are more vocal than others, all municipalities are struggling to confront the consequences of the seismic shift put forward by the province. Given the right support, municipalities can push back.
The Alliance for a Liveable Ontario has put together a sample motion that if passed, will present municipalities with a roadmap to rejecting the implementation of Bill 23. We encourage you to bring the motion before your cities and towns, let your councillors know that we have their back, and inspire courage in our local elected officials to reject this disastrous bill in concrete ways.
If the recent strike from the education workers that caused Doug Ford to repeal Bill 28 taught us anything, it’s that when we unite to fight back, we win. We must show Ford and their corporate friends that Ontarians are ready to fight back and stand firmly in solidarity with our allies locally and across the province to continue building a healthy, liveable, and equitable Ontario for all.
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