Bill 23 and the Greenbelt
On April 15, 2023, the Mayor of Kincardine marched and stood in the line with protestors to support them. Later, he had this to say about the mismanagement of Bill 23:
Wetlands, green space, affordable housing, public, municipal and regional input into development–all gone.
An intensively researched op ed by Sheila Clarke
The recently introduced omnibus Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, is abominable. Please take some of the steps at the end of this message, by NOV 17. At least we can try!
Using the Environmental Defence Summary, and also drawing from Ontario Nature, “the Pointer,” and the Farmland Trust, I’ll try to summarize the schedules of concern in Bill 23 .
I’m going to start with the most important part of the bill in terms of the future health of our environment, SCHEDULE 2, that has been described as ecological insanity -and it is. It’s a wholesale attack on Conservation Authorities ability to protect important habitat and water control environments in order to open those areas to urban sprawl. Wetlands especially will be under attack. Our Conservation Authorities have been able to protect ecologically important habitats, which in turn are part of flood control, and of the ultimate health of all of us. Wetlands absorb flood waters, are critically important for migrating species, and are home to millions of species of wildlife , many endangered. Complex wetlands are not separate, they are ecologically linked; they enable moderation of flood surges, and link important habitat locations, forming “bridges” for wildlife movement. They are truly the lifeblood of our natural environment. They are little understood, and are often seen as nuisances by developers, something to fill in and pave over. Equally endangered would be forested areas. Bill 23 removes the ability of the Conservation Authorities to protect these very important elements of our environment.
SCHEDULE 2: CONSERVATION AUTHORITIES ACT
Facilitating a Mass Sell-Off of Conservation Lands
Bill 23 would remove the requirement for government permission, and allow the sale of conservation lands – including endangered or threatened species habitat, wetlands, and areas of natural and scientific interest. Where a sale is for “provincial or municipal infrastructure and municipal purposes”, the authority is not even required to consult on these dispositions.
Open Season for Sprawl on Wetlands
Many of Ontario’s rarest and most at-risk wildlife and habitats are concentrated in the same “crisis ecoregions” which the vast majority of the province’s people live, and where pressure for suburban residential, commercial and residential sprawl is most intense
This Bill would remove the power of Conservation Authorities to regulate or prohibit sprawl developers and land speculators from destroying wetlands, river or stream valleys, within their jurisdiction, in almost every case. It does this through Section 7 of the Bill, which would amend s. 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act to exempt any project that has received land use planning approval under the Planning Act from Conservation Authority regulations regulating water-taking, interference with rivers, creeks, streams, watercourses, and wetlands, or controlling flooding, erosion, conservation of land.
Conservation Authorities would not be able to regulate and refuse building permits based on “pollution or the conservation of land”, and the Minister would not be required to consider those matters in appeals.
Gagging Conservation Authorities
Bill 23 will also prohibit Conservation Authorities from providing Municipalities with the information they need in order to start protecting conservation lands themselves when they consider land use planning approvals.
The result will be a massive gap in Ontario’s system for protecting public safety and ecosystems, and ultimately, the unleashing of bulldozers and backhoes on cumulatively vast areas of wetland, forest and other sensitive areas currently off-limits for development.
ACTION: REMOVE SCHEDULE 2
The remaining schedules deal with housing, but in most cases, are in complete opposition to recommendations to reduce sprawl over important habitat and green space: “densify” building within existing city and municipal boundaries where there is ample space; and address the serious need for affordable housing in Ontario.
SCHEDULE 1: CITY OF TORONTO ACT, 2006
Jeopardizing Rental Replacement
The amendment to s. 111 of the City of Toronto Act would empower the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to unilaterally limit the City of Toronto’s much admired rental replacement policy.
The Rental Replacement Policy ensures that when rental apartments are demolished to make way for new development, the tenants are entitled to a replacement unit of roughly the same size and type in the new development, at the same rent as before – as well as temporary accommodation in the interim.
In the absence of the Rental Replacement Policy, construction of much-needed new housing will frequently result in the displacement of existing tenants who currently pay lower rents, and will require them to enter new leases at rents that will almost always be much higher.
Killing the Toronto Green Standard
Another amendment under Schedule 1 would remove the authority for many parts of the Toronto Green Standard, and narrow its application considerably – potentially making it impossible for the City of Toronto to meet its building emissions targets.
ACTION: REMOVE SCHEDULE 1 – Safeguard Toronto Rental Replacement Policy – Maintain current Toronto Green Standard Building application
SCHEDULE 3: DEVELOPMENT CHARGES ACT, 1997
Bill 23 would jeopardize the ability of municipalities to use development charges as intended – to gather funds for large infrastructure projects to accommodate and support growth. It would do this by requiring municipalities to spend or allocate 60 per cent of reserve funds each year. This would make it impossible for municipalities to plan for creation of major affordable housing units through reserve funds gathered for that purpose.
ACTION: REMOVE SCHEDULE 3. Remove requirement for spending 60% of reserve funds each year.
SCHEDULE 4: MUNICIPAL ACT, 2001
Opening the Door to Displacement of Lower-Income Tenants
Schedule 4 amendments to the Municipal Act, 2001 would empower the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to unilaterally limit – and even dismantle – rental replacement policies of other Ontario municipalities.
Current rental replacement policy ensures that when rental apartments are demolished to make way for new development, the tenants are entitled to a replacement unit of roughly the same size and type in the new development, at the same rent as before – as well as temporary accommodation in the interim.
In the absence of the rental replacement policies, construction of much-needed new housing will frequently result in the displacement of existing tenants who currently pay lower rents, and will require them to enter new leases at rents that will almost always be much higher.
ACTION: REMOVE SCHEDULE 4. Safeguard rental replacement policy.
SCHEDULE 7: ONTARIO LAND TRIBUNAL ACT
Considerable clarification is needed in this schedule to insure that there is adequate and fair access to the OLT, and that the concept of “delay” is not structured to create rushed approval of development plans, or the incursion of fines assigned to the municipality which is already the catchment of considerable downloading, overworked staff, and limited resources. It is important that OLT access be a fair process for all aspects of community development, both within the municipality, and external development. To have fines incurred by the body losing an appeal seems to assign a punitive element to what should be an open process designed for reasoned address.
As well, to preclude third party appeal, leaving only municipal and corporate appeal seems to overlook a basic precept of fair appeal in community and environmental development.
ACTION: CLARIFY SCHEDULE 7 TO ADDRESS FAIRNESS, ACCESS, AND DEFINITION OF TERMS SUCH THAT MUNICIPALITIES ARE NOT UNDULY PENALIZED. EXPAND DEFINITIONS OF LEAVE TO APPEAL TO INCLUDE THIRD PARTY.
SCHEDULE 9: PLANNING ACT
Contrary to the government’s messaging, the main thrust of its amendments to the Planning Act – and the main thrust Bill 23 overall – is to legalize and provoke a massive acceleration of suburban sprawl into wetlands, forests, farmland, and other areas on the rural outskirts of major population centers in Ontario’s most sensitive ecoregions.
Unilaterally Imposing Sprawl on Municipalities that Choose Smart Growth
Over the past year, Ontario municipalities like Hamilton, Halton and and Waterloo have made extraordinary strides in protecting wildlife habitat and farmland and delivering the denser, walkable, lower-cost forms of housing in existing neighborhoods, by adopting groundbreaking plans that would allocate all – or almost all – of their new homes and workplaces to existing neighborhoods, built up areas, and their existing supply of unused designated greenfield area.
This Bill’s amendments to the s. 23 of the Planning Act would allow the government to directly impose sprawl on those municipalities, without any opportunity to accommodate demand for housing and workplaces in their own way.
Destroying Regional Planning in the Greater Golden Horseshoe
Even more concerning is the Bill’s proposal to entirely eliminate coordinated regional planning in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe. In Simcoe, Durham, Halton, Peel, Niagara and Waterloo and York Region, regional planning is meant to prevent “patchwork” sprawl that wastes construction resources and infrastructure, to enable regional governments to ensure that development can be serviced effectively, and to ensure that land isn’t wasted.
The Bill would remove the power of Regional governments to plan where new homes and workplaces go, and the densities at which they are built, to prevent the squandering of farmland and wildlife to habitat, and to ensure that new and existing communities can be serviced with public transit, water and other infrastructure.
The effect of Bill 23 will be a region-wide race to the bottom when it comes to land-use planning, with lower-tier municipalities that lack experienced land use planning staff pressured to expand settlement boundaries onto vital farmland and habitat, or into places where they can never be serviced effectively.
Failure to Deliver on Densification: Exiling Families to Sprawl
All of Ontario’s major municipalities are on a race against time to bring post-WWII neighborhoods, in particular, up to densities that support frequent, reliable public transit, and allow most residents to get by comfortably without a car. That is in part because of the need to both to make room for everyone who wants to live there – and to stop pushing residents into sprawl. It is also because reducing car trips is vital to meeting Ontario’s obligations to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late. However, it is also because the population growth that enables us to deliver them without massive hardship will not continue forever. Ontario cannot afford to squander homes and workplaces that are needed to fix existing sprawl right now on the creation of even more sprawl suburbs in wetlands and farms.
Unfortunately, Bill 23 fails to deliver the changes required to meet demand for housing in existing neighborhoods. Measures to require that zoning be updated to facilitate densification around public transit are a modest step in the right direction. However, promised reforms to remove or reduce exclusionary “single detached” zoning, were watered down to such a degree that, according to the government’s own documents, they would create just 50,000 of the 1,500,000 promised homes. Contrary to government messaging, amendments to s. 16(3) of the Planning Act do not allow modest, purpose-built walk-up apartments or even townhomes to be built as of right on the existing lots currently being squandered on single detached McMansions. It is difficult to see how the changes permitted by the Bill – which allows up to two additional residential units within a detached house, semi-detached house or rowhouse, or in a modest ancillary structure – go meaningfully beyond what is already permitted in the City of Toronto.
ACTION: PERMIT REGIONAL PLANNING TO FACILITATE INFRASTRUCTURE DELIVERY, AND PROTECTION OF CRITICAL WETLANDS, FARMLAND AND HABITAT.
ACTION: REDUCE URBAN SPRAWL THROUGH DENSIFICATION.
SUPPORTING GROWTH AND HOUSING IN YORK AND DURHAM REGIONS ACT, 2022
The new “Supporting Growth and Housing in York and Durham Regions Act, 2022”, which would be created by Bill 23, aims to facilitate York Region’s reckless and excessive boundary expansion by forcing a massive sewage tunnel through the Greenbelt and the sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine. This law would exempt the project from many features of an Environmental Assessment, and even from the Environmental Bill of Rights.
Unleashing Sprawl in York Region and Northern Durham Region
While municipalities like Hamilton and Waterloo made an unprecedented effort to deliver housing in affordable and environmentally sustainable way, York Region, in particular,submitted boundary expansion requests that would mark far more farmland and wildlife habitat for destruction than could ever plausibly be required to meet housing need. Moreover, York Region approved boundary expansion on large swathes of land in the overtaxed Lake Simcoe watershed that lacked any capacity at all for further expansion.
ACTION: REMOVE THE SUPPORTING GROWTH AND HOUSING IN YORK AND DURHAM REGIONS ACT, 2022
On Sunday, December 4, a rally was held in Blyth to protest the attack on the Greenbelt and to urge the repeal of Bill 23. It was a loud rally, one of many rallies that were held that weekend, and expressed very well the anger that is rising in this province over our government’s attack on democracy, its disregard of the importance of farmland, and its abuse of the environment with Bill 23 and the Greenbelt grab. Five environmental groups participated in this rally; the Council of Canadians (London Chapter), Green Goderich, Save our Waterways, the Wellington Water Watchers, and our own organization, The Perth County Sustainability Hub.
At a rally in Stratford on November 24, 2022, Sunil Puri represented the National Farmers Union’s stance on Bill 23 and the Greenbelt grab. He gave a gripping description of what it’s like to be a young farmer in Doug Ford’s Ontario.