Corp Comm Connects

Critics call Ford government’s pivot on regional governments a ‘slow retreat’

A review of two-tier government in York, Halton, Durham and others regions appears headed to a legislative committee dominated by Conservative MPPs.
Sept. 18, 2023
Rob Ferguson

A review of two-tier government in York, Halton, Durham and others -- determining whether the system speeds or slows the construction of new homes -- appears headed to a legislative committee dominated by Premier Doug Ford’s MPPs.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra made the pitch this week after having second thoughts about appointing “facilitators” to do the job, but critics say it’s a thinly disguised bid to put the issue on the back burner while the government rides out the $8.3 billion Greenbelt land swap scandal.

“Calandra’s treating it like a game of hot potato,” New Democrat MPP Jeff Burch (Niagara Centre), his party’s municipal affairs critic, said of the plan to put six regional governments and their cities and towns under the microscope.

“This government is lurching from one random decision to another,” he added. “These facilitators were slated to make incredibly important decisions for our regions and municipalities.”

In a letter to fellow Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott, chair of the legislature’s standing committee on heritage, infrastructure and cultural police, Calandra asked members to take on the review because of “substantial changes” at the municipal level, such as strong mayor powers for most large municipalities.

He said a look by the committee would be more “public, open and accountable” than appointing facilitators to look at the three GTA regions plus Niagara, Waterloo and Simcoe County to decide if there are “unnecessary or duplicative barriers preventing towns and cities from hitting their housing targets.”

Peel went through a similar exercise recently, which will lead to its dissolution in 2025 into the separate municipalities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon running their own affairs.

“I recognize this is a substantial request for a committee that is already tasked with a significant workload,” wrote Calandra, who was tasked with meeting the government’s target of building 1.5 million homes by 2031 after the resignation of his predecessor Steve Clark over the Greenbelt imbroglio highlighted in two scathing reports from legislative watchdog agencies.

“Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that redundant and unnecessary obstacles to new home construction are removed and that local governance structures are providing fair, effective and accountable government.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Calandra’s request “signals a very slow retreat” from revamping regional government at a time of political upheaval for Ford amid public opinion polls citing the growing unpopularity of his plan to open more of the Greenbelt to build 50,000 homes.

To have a legislative committee also tasked with reviewing legislation call witnesses, seek data and parse the situations in six different major regions of the province is “a really big exercise,” Fraser added. “It could take a very long time.”

It’s up to the committee to decide whether to proceed with a review. Conservative members outnumber members from other parties because of the Ford government’s substantial majority in the legislature.

In the Greenbelt land swap scandal, 15 properties were removed from the protected zone -- with 14 of them personally chosen by Clark’s former chief of staff, Ryan Amato.

An investigation by auditor general Bonnie Lysyk found the process bypassed input from neutral civil servants “favoured certain developers,” while integrity commissioner J. David Wake called it a “madcap” exercise and determined Clark violated ethics legislation for MPPs by having his “head in the sand” and not properly supervising Amato, who resigned in August.