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'Cutting an onion with a chainsaw': York Region slams Ontario's Bill 23
Nov. 14, 2022

York Regional Council has added its voice to growing alarm over the province’s proposed Bill 23, "More Homes Built Faster Act", saying it has massive implications and will not help solve the housing crisis.

Regional council agreed at a meeting Oct. 10 to ask the province to halt the bill, as mayors expressed outrage over the speed with which it was rushed through.

“It’s flawed in so many ways,” Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said.

Taylor said some of the actions in the bill are “not even remotely realistic” and will lead to less parkland, higher property taxes and less environmental protections.

“I think we have to take a really strong stand,” he said. “We can fix this. We can work with them. We need to get a message out quickly.”

The region is asking the province to make time to work with them in a more meaningful way.

The bill, introduced Oct. 25, proposes to make sweeping changes to the Planning Act to speed up construction of 1.5 million homes over the next decade and gives municipalities and other stakeholders until Nov. 24 to submit comments.

That’s not enough time for fulsome consultations, especially with a deadline just nine days after the swearing in of a new council, regional council members said.

The province has also introduced changes to add settlement to protected Greenbelt land.

“This is not going to do anything but provide more urban sprawl, more million dollar homes in our communities,” said Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas.

“Building more affordable housing, we would all agree on that I’m sure,” said Richmond Hill Mayor David West, “but I’m not convinced we’re going to be meeting the goal of the legislation. It’s a bit like cutting an onion with a chainsaw. We’re not going to have much onion left at the end of all this.”

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who put forward the motion, said municipalities have been doing some of what’s suggested in the bill, for years.

“We’ve already exempted subsidized housing units from development charges and park levees and a number of other things … So that’s nothing new and I don’t think we need to be taught how.”

At the same time, Bill 23 reduces development charges that municipalities rely on to build infrastructure for future growth -- an estimated loss of about 10 per cent in charges collected, CAO Bruce Macgregor said.

This could cost the region billions of dollars over the next 30 years, Scarpitti said, “eliminating the opportunity to build soccer fields, baseball diamonds, cricket pitches and splash pads, amenities that people expect to be in a community.”

Scarpitti called on the province to follow through on its promise, made shortly after the provincial election, to work with a special task force including municipal leaders.

“The fact that the very task force they set out to work with hasn’t been appointed, never met, begs the question, where did this policy get developed?” Scarpitti said.

Markham Regional Councillor Jack Heath said he has some idea.

“I have no doubt developers who’ve bought lands that could be in the Greenbelt right now have also spoken to the provincial government.

“This has nothing to do with solving affordability. This is how to solve issues for developers so they can get their lands faster … and make their money faster.”

York is not alone in slamming the province’s new bill. Other Ontario large city mayors, the Association of Ontario Municipalities and regional councils have raised concerns and are echoing the same disdain for the Ford government’s lack of consultation and the timing, MacGregor said.

The province may have great intentions, but there are other ways to help with affordable housing, he said, including letting municipalities incentivize the building of smaller homes by levying lower development charges for less square footage.

“Affordable homes aren’t 7,000-square foot mansions,” he said.

Taylor said the province missed another opportunity by opening up 7,400 acres of Greenbelt with “no strings attached.”

The province wants to remove 15 parcels of land from the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes, promising to add 9,400 acres to the Greenbelt in other areas

Setting aside the controversial decision to allow those protected lands to be built on, the province could have required developers on the Greenbelt to build 25 per cent affordable housing, Taylor said.

“It’s a complete abdication of leadership … and it infuriates me.”