After many years of advocating alongside my colleague, Kristyn Wong-Tam and local residents’ associations, we were finally successful in convincing the provincial government to free Toronto from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in late 2017. The Doug Ford government has now announced the More Homes, More Choice Act: a return of developer-friendly OMB rules, and a handover of the planning process to the development industry & their lobbyists.
This government already scrapped the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre, which levelled the playing field between developers and community groups by offering free guidance on the Tribunal process and general planning matters as well as planning and/or legal representation. Now, Ford is threatening to completely dismantle hard fought reforms that ensured Toronto residents would have more say in how their neighbourhoods are planned, including:
- “de novo” (entirely new) hearings will once again be allowed, making the LPAT not a true “appeals” body as intended. Provincial appointees will have more say over local planning matters than Toronto’s professional Staff and residents’ local representatives.
- favouring deep-pocketed developers at hearings by allowing lengthy and often confrontational examinations and cross examinations of witnesses by parties and their lawyers
This bill also contains concerning news regarding changes to the community benefits structure, also known as “Section 37”. Currently the provincial Planning Act requires developers to contribute funds to the local area they are profiting from. In recent years, these funds have supported vital infrastructure and social services such as community hubs, affordable daycare centres, playgrounds at parks and schools, and new tree planters. The province is also contemplating changes to the Parkland Dedication requirements, which has allowed the City to provide vital new green space in fast-growing communities.
It is fair to question the Ford government’s stated intention of making housing more affordable with these changes. Neighbourhoods require social services, parks, and infrastructure to be livable and vibrant places for residents. That burden will fall more heavily on local taxpayers without the current contribution from developers.
Moreover, Premier Ford has already all but guaranteed that very little of any new housing created will be affordable given that he has already removed all rent controls on new rental housing, allowing landlords to charge tenants whatever they want, without regard to the annual inflationary increase currently in place across the province. As well, these new changes limit inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to provide a percentage of affordable units, to only high growth nodes.
I have already started organizing to fight this regressive legislation with my colleagues in Toronto, and members of council across the GTHA, along with residents associations from around our region. This legislation has a wide ranging impact, on everything from the natural environment, heritage preservation, recreation, public space, education, neighbourhood stability and more. It was recently reported that proposed changes to the Endagered Species Act buried in Bill 108 could spell a potential “doomsday scenario” for endangered species across the province. Check this page regularly for updates as more information becomes available.
We cannot allow an unaccountable and unelected body to once again determine local planning decisions. Together, we must take a strong stand against a planning process that makes our city and neighbouring municipalities less affordable for residents and have a negative impact on their daily quality of life.
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