Would Prime Minister Doug Ford listen? Listening to the legions of concerned citizens across the province who have expressed fear over the government’s controversial housing bill being imposed on Ontario cities and towns?
There are complaints that Bill 23 undermines municipal planning, imposes huge costs on municipalities, destroys wetlands and hinders the creation of affordable housing, but Ford won’t listen. He controls the Ontario legislature and uses his majority to become increasingly autocratic.
But being prime minister doesn’t mean he’s 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 county’s education workers. Instead of ending the strike, Ford’s outreach united Ontario’s workers, forcing him on a humiliating climb down. It’s the same attitude that drove the decision to give mayors in Ottawa and Toronto superpowers that no one asked for so they could veto council decisions. And it’s the same attitude that underpins Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, whose stated goal is to build 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years.
Now Ford may still be there in 10 years, or it may not. But that’s not the point. The thing is, Ford — and it really is Ford — is making seismic changes to Ontario municipal planning without consultation. Sure, he’s an elected leader, but he acts undemocratically time after time, and that should raise the alarm. We expect our leaders to listen and adapt, but apparently Ford does not.
The prime minister wants to raise much-needed housing and there isn’t a soul in the province that disagrees with that hope. But instead of listening, consulting, and building consensus, Ford is going to dismantle municipal planning as we know it. And he does it no matter what anyone says. The association representing Ontario’s 444 municipalities has complained that it was not given an opportunity to appeal to a legislative committee that is studying the bill. It is concerned about the long-term financial consequences for towns and cities. “Preliminary analysis indicates that costs to Ontario’s 29 largest municipalities could reach $1 billion per year between 2023 and 2031,” the association says.
But Ford doesn’t want to hear it.
In their own analysis, Ottawa city officials say Bill 23 could create a multimillion-dollar revenue shortfall and potentially lead to the creation of new communities without the services to make them livable.
But don’t think these are just a few complaining townspeople. More than 30 eastern Ontario mayors, many from rural communities, have sent Ford a letter asking him to hit the pause button because they are deeply concerned. The signatories, including board chairmen of conservation authorities, fear the law would decimate the authorities’ ability to protect wetlands as developers are given free rein to develop in protected natural areas. The changes also place an enormous burden on their functioning.
“Maybe we won’t pay the price in 10 or 15 years. But there is no doubt that this legislation will lead to homes being built in hazardous areas,” said Carl Bickerdike, the South Nation Conservation Authority’s CAO. “I don’t see how this bill will work for Eastern Ontario. They shift responsibilities onto municipalities,” added Bryan McGillis, the mayor of the Township of South Stormont. “I don’t think people realize what an attack this is on democratic processes under the Planning Act,” agreed Sally McIntyre, general manager of the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority.
Ottawa’s newly elected mayor, Mark Sutcliffe, has been silent on growing opposition, saying the council needs to collect more information before taking any action. But Sutcliffe has already had the extensive analysis done by the staff, and that should be enough. Legislation could be rammed through at any moment and Sutcliffe must speak out before it is too late, if only for the record.
Mohammed Adam is a journalist and commentator from Ottawa. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org