Corp Comm Connects

Ford government tables bill to reverse Ontario urban boundary changes
Nov. 17, 2023
Katherine DeClerq

The Doug Ford government has tabled legislation that will officially reverse changes to the urban boundaries of multiple cities while also ensuring “immunity” for those involved in the decision-making process.

Housing Minister Paul Calandra first said he would be introducing this legislation in mid-October after finding that changes to municipal official plans in a number of jurisdictions, including Halton, Peel and York regions, were not made “in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust.”

“The process was one that I was just not comfortable with,” Calandra said at the time. “I think there was just a little bit too much involvement from individuals within the previous minister's office on the official plans in these areas.”

In 2022, the Doug Ford government altered the official city plans of multiple municipalities in an effort to encourage more housing to be built.

The decision was highly criticized, with multiple mayors and city staff arguing the changes were not necessary to reach their individual housing targets. In some cases, they argued the changes would have negative environmental and financial impacts.

The legislation tabled Thursday will reverse the changes made to the municipalities of Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Peterborough, Wellington County, and the regional municipalities of Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo and York.

Construction that has already received a building permit would be able to continue, officials said, and applications for in-progress projects seeking planning permissions such as zoning amendments would also continue to be processed; however it would need to conform to each municipality’s official plans.

Municipalities have until Dec. 7 to submit information about projects already underway or to provide information about any modifications they would like to see. After that date, it is possible some official plans may be changed yet again.

In a statement, Calandra cited the need to “be more ambitious,” adding the mayors and heads of council he has already heard from have agreed with that declaration.

“I look forward to receiving feedback from our municipal partners about changes to the original official plans and amendments. As they prepare this feedback, and in the spirit of being more ambitious, I am urging our municipal partners to prioritize increasing density, especially near transit.”

Certain changes made by the province will not be reversed as part of this legislation, including provisions to protect the Greenbelt, strengthen Indigenous relations, and ensure safe drinking water.

The province is also not reversing certain changes to the official plans of Peel Region and Halton Region to protect the Highway 413 corridor.

Officials say the bill will also “introduce immunity provisions to help mitigate legal risk for municipalities and the province resulting from this legislation.”

As such, it would amend the Planning Act to offer protections related to the making, amending or revoking of minister’s zoning orders (MZOs).

“While no specific changes to MZOs are currently being made, this provision would help mitigate risk should revocations be necessary as the ministry reviews a use it or lose it policy.”

Calandra has previously said his office will be conducting a review of MZOs as part of a larger overhaul of the ministry. The auditor general has also opened up an investigation into the government’s use of the zoning tool, which allows the province to re-zone a piece of land and override municipal development constrictions.

This new immunity would protect the government from any legal challenges as a result of changing or making these decisions.

When the government reversed its decision to remove 7,400 acres from the Greenbelt, it also expanded government protections from personal liabilities “for acts done in good faith.”