Those who have the most to lose under the Ontario Ford government’s proposed More Homes Built Faster Act—which, if passed, will effectively gut the province’s land conservation and public consultation policies—include neighborhoods and civil society organizations determined to have a say in how development proceeds, municipalities looking to implement sustainable design initiatives, and especially Ontario’s wetlands, early analysis shows.
Introduced at Queen’s Park last week, the Act “proposes sweeping changes to the land use approvals system in the province, with the goal of facilitating the construction of 1.5 million new homes by 2031,” writes law firm Osler. “Overall, the changes will provide greater certainty to developers.”
One of the changes proposed by the Act is to eliminate third-party appeal rights to the Ontario Land Tribunal. “No one other than the applicant, the municipality, certain public bodies, and the Minister will be allowed to appeal municipal decisions to the Tribunal” should Bill 23 become law.
Among those excluded from the right to appeal will be individual members of the public, neighborhood groups, and environmental non-profits. The tribunal itself will be given greater powers, able both to order costs against any party that loses a hearing and to dismiss appeals “for undue delay.”
Bill 23 also seeks to limit the scope of site plan control, a tool many municipalities use to regulate the development process. “The City of Toronto, for example, has used the site plan tool to institute environmentally friendly standards for certain kinds of development,” writes iPolitics.
There is concern that narrowing the scope of site plan controls “may restrict municipal ability to implement sustainable design initiatives like energy performance standards,” the publication adds, citing a government document predicting backlash to the proposed legislation from municipalities as well as neighborhood, environmental, and Indigenous groups.
While the Ford government is currently considering a program to “offset development pressure on wetlands,” Osler says the language in the Act seems to imply that wetlands can be developed “provided a net positive impact is demonstrated.”
Further imperilling Ontario’s wetlands, and its other ecosystems, will be the move to limit the remit of the province’s conservation authorities—local agencies that manage Ontario’s watersheds—to “natural hazard concerns, not broader environmental considerations.” Natural Resources Minister Graydon Smith framed the move “as getting the bodies back to their original mandate, protecting people and property from Mother Nature,” notes iPolitics.
Digging into the details of the Ford government’s (repeat) move to “gut” Ontario’s conservation authorities, the Narwhal reports that Bill 23 “will repeal 36 specific regulations that allow conservation authorities to directly oversee the development process.”
The net result: “Ontario’s conservation authorities will no longer be able to consider ‘pollution’ and ‘conservation of land’ when weighing whether they will allow development.”
The Ford government is also seeking to force Ontario’s conservation authorities to rubber stamp permits for projects that fall under the new-minted Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator, a vehicle designed to speed up zoning changes.
The repeat attack on the province’s conservation authorities could backfire, the Narwhal, says noting that the decades-old institutions help municipalities “navigate dozens of policies and legislative instructions, making sure the puzzle pieces fit together around watershed protection goals,” and helping “to prevent severe impacts on the watershed that could harm human health or biodiversity across the province.”