Ontario Must Withdraw Bill 23 and Shift to Sustainable Planning

Un-able to deliver its promised instant homes with the magic wands of the original Housing Action Plan and Housing Action Plan 2.0, the Ford government is using Housing Action Plan 3.0 to re-make Ontario as an autocracy, pushing urban development while sacrificing the environment and democracy. 
There are three main threads to unravel.
The first consists of massive legislative and regulatory proposals. Bill 23 is yet another omnibus bill which is 175 pages long and amends 10 acts, being delivered in closure with limited public consultation. 
It is buttressed by numerous postings on the Environmental Registry containing further regulatory amendments. Cumulatively, the changes seek to redefine the scope of municipal planning; reduce democratic norms for both public participation in planning and legal recourse through the Ontario Land Tribunal; offer weak support for affordable housing; and seek to prevent the pursuit of green development standards at a time when we need to address the climate crisis by building complete, compact, and low-carbon communities. 
In addition, Bill 23 will trample key aspects of watershed management of interest to the Ontario Headwaters Institute. This includes: the CA mandate to address the conservation of land revoked; CAs possibly barred from entering into service agreements to help municipalities protect the environment; development allowed on wetlands; the Province able to direct CAs to surrender land, such as conservation areas often donated in perpetuity, for future development; developers allowed to place small streams underground, thereby impacting water quality and natural heritage. It also appears that CA monitoring and their valuable watershed report cards may be banned. 
A second thread is the history of undelivered initiatives from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and its accomplices in environmental subterfuge. This includes: 

  • The Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan is still a draft, after more than four years;
  • Ontario’s Wetland Strategy has been archived on the government website, also for four years;
  • The government was forced to withdraw key aspects of a previous effort, Bill 66, that would have allowed new subdivisions while ignoring both public consultation and the Clean Water Act;
  • The government pilfered a private member’s bill to add parts of the Paris-Galt Moraine to the Greenbelt, then let their Bill languish;
  • There has been no decision notice or other action on Growing the Size of the Greenbelt - the only public discussion on land use in Ontario in the last five four years - since consultation ended more than a year ago; and,
  • There have been at least three efforts to amend the Provincial Policy Statement, with a fourth underway now. 

This litany of mis-direction signals that either the Government has no idea what it is doing, does not respect the investment of time by its own staff and the public on its initiatives, and/or is purposely destroying environmental safeguards through the death of a thousand cuts. We think it is all three.
Finally, there is the unseemly haste of legislative closure and the aggressive rhetoric of a government that has apparently been captured by private interests. The onslaught is being led by a minister who has gone from the usual insults of calling activists NIMBY-ists (Not In My Back Yard), to the dis-information of them being BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. 
Let us be clear: no one has ever said BANANA. Certainly not those who favour of increased development within existing urban boundaries. Nor those seeking more affordable housing.
Further, the OHI and our sister organizations are not NIMBY-ists. We do not express concerns about the Housing Action Plan because we have massive holdings near proposed development, but because watercourses and wetlands are part of the global commons of water. Because society needs to protect regional biodiversity and food security. And because it is imperative to build sustainable, low-carbon communities in an era of the climate, biodiversity, and food security crises.

To date, the OHI is thrilled to see significant sectoral and public responses to Bill 23 and its associated postings on the Environmental Registry. After a short lull to parse hundreds of pages and scores of proposed changes, municipalities, conservation authorities, housing advocates, environmentalists, and those concerned about legal rights are now beginning to offer comments. They have not been complimentary. 

Meanwhile, the public sees through the naked assault on municipal planning, conservation authorities, and democracy for what it is. 
And many tell the OHI they abhor the false and mis-leading claims emanating from the 1980-Ford government.

Given the disastrous sweep of the current proposals, the undelivered initiatives described above, and his hostile rhetoric, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing should either withdraw Bill 23 and its aligned initiatives or ensure a lengthy period of public engagement. He should also update his perspective to recognize that the economy, the environment, and democracy are inter-dependent, and stop using the former as a cudgel against the latter two.

Ontario Must Withdraw Bill 23 and Shift to Sustainable Planning

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