Would Premier Doug Ford for once listen? Listen to the legions of concerned citizens across the province who have raised fears about the government’s controversial housing law that is being imposed on Ontario towns and cities?
There are complaints that Bill 23 will gut municipal planning, impose huge costs on municipalities, destroy wetlands, and hinder the creation of affordable housing, but Ford won’t listen. He controls the Ontario legislature and is using his majority to become more and more autocratic.
But being premier doesn’t mean he is always right or knows best. Unfortunately, his “my way or the highway” attitude led him to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the standoff with the province’s education workers. Instead of ending the strike, Ford’s overreach united Ontario workers, forcing him into a humiliating climbdown. It is the same attitude that informed the decision to give mayors in Ottawa and Toronto superpowers no one asked for, so they could veto council decisions. And it is the same attitude that is driving Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, the stated purpose of which is to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.
Now, Ford may still be around in 10 years, or he may not. But that’s not the point. The point is that Ford — and it is really Ford — is making seismic changes to municipal planning in Ontario without consultation. Sure, he is an elected leader, but he acts undemocratically time and again, and that should raise alarm. We expect our leaders to listen and adjust — but apparently not Ford.
The premier wants to increase desperately needed housing and there is not a soul in the province who disagrees with that hope. But instead of listening, consulting and building consensus, Ford is set to dismantle municipal planning as we know it. And he is doing it no matter what anyone says. The association that represents Ontario’s 444 municipalities has complained that it was not given an opportunity to make representations to a legislative committee studying the bill. It worries about the long-term financial impact on towns and cities. “A preliminary analysis indicates the costs for Ontario’s 29 largest municipalities could be as much as $1 billion annually between 2023 and 2031,” the association says.
But Ford doesn’t want to hear it.
In their own analysis, Ottawa city staff say Bill 23 could cause multi-million-dollar revenue shortfalls and potentially lead to the creation of new communities without the services to make them livable.
But don’t think that this is just some woke city slickers complaining. More than 30 eastern Ontario mayors, many from rural municipalities, have sent Ford a letter asking him to hit the pause button because they have significant concerns. The signatories, including board chairs of conservation authorities, fear the law would decimate the ability of the authorities to protect wetlands as developers get a free hand to develop in protected natural areas. The changes will also impose enormous burdens on their ability to function.
“We may not pay the price for 10 or 15 years. But there is no doubt that this legislation will lead to houses being built in hazardous areas,’’ says Carl Bickerdike, the CAO of the South Nation Conservation Authority. “I don’t see how this bill will work for eastern Ontario. They are downloading responsibilities on municipalities,” adds Bryan McGillis, the mayor of the Township of South Stormont. “I don’t think people realize what an assault this is on democratic processes under the Planning Act,” agrees Sally McIntyre, general manager of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority.
Newly elected Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe has remained silent on the growing tide of opposition, saying council needs to gather more information before any action is taken. But Sutcliffe already has the comprehensive analysis done by staff, and that should be enough. The legislation may be rammed through anytime and Sutcliffe should speak out before it is too late, if only for the record.
Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org