Since becoming premier, the Doug Ford government has rewritten many of the laws and regulations that decide how we build and what we build. These developer-friendly changes help Doug Ford’s donor base reap record profits, but their impact on people, the environment, democracy and our affordable housing goals is mixed. And I’m being nice here.
Here’s a roundup of the good, bad and ugly changes to Ontario’s planning laws.
Abusing Ministerial Zoning Orders
Ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) are the nuclear bomb of planning. MZOs give the provincial government the power to override local planning rules and establish their own rules on a piece of land. Doug Ford has issued about 40 MZOs, and have faced considerable community opposition in response. City councilors and local residents were furious that the government made a secret deal with a big developer to build big on the provincially-owned Foundry site at 153 to 185 Eastern Ave. The government-backed down fast and is now negotiating with the city. In other cases, MZOs have been justifiable. I am at peace with MZOs that are formally requested by the city for projects that benefit the public good, like reducing the number of required parking spots at the new affordable housing development at 877 Yonge.
Opening up farmland to single tract homes
In response to pressure from developers, the Ford government has been quietly forcing municipalities to review and expand their municipal boundaries to permit urban sprawl on thousands of acres of nearby farmland, and reduce density requirements within the municipal boundary. This is a huge issue that could lead to the paving of thousands and thousands of acres of greenspace across Southern Ontario.
The government says expanding municipal boundaries is necessary to meet the housing needs for projected population growth until 2051, but critics say the government’s population and job growth estimates are grossly exaggerated.
Environmental Defence, residents and councillors are campaigning to protect farmland, stop any needless expansion of a municipalities’ boundaries, and meet housing and job needs by increasing density within existing neighbourhoods first. This is an issue I’m following closely.
Ford has embraced transit-oriented development to increase density near major transit stations by building above and nearby major transit stations. To transition to zero-carbon transit-friendly neighbourhoods, more housing should be built near transit.
Here’s the problem. The Ford government is making deals with developers to build above and near transit sites in return for partially paying for transit station construction, but the public doesn’t know how much money will go to station construction, what sized units the developer will build, how many of them will be truly affordable and for how long, and what profit margin the developer is permitted to make.
Is this truly the best we can do with our precious provincial land? No. Instead of selling off land to big developers that we’ll never get back, we should keep our land and build housing and services, from affordable housing to community centres to daycares, that truly meet the needs of our city.
Changing LPAT rules
This year, the Ford government made changes to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) that gives community members and municipalities even less say over land-use planning. The tribunal can now dismiss a proceeding without a hearing if the adjudicator believes the proceeding has no reasonable prospect of success. Third parties - mostly residents - can no longer testify at a hearing, and can only submit written comments. The government has also removed the right to a judicial review or an appeal except in very exceptional circumstances.
Restricting inclusionary zoning
Of the over 230,000 units built or approved in the last five years within Toronto, only about 2% were affordable. Increasing supply will not solve our housing affordability crisis. Government needs to regulate and invest. The City of Toronto is developing an inclusionary zoning policy that would require new residential developments to include affordable housing units. The Ford government put hard limits on inclusionary zoning through Bill 108, which limits inclusionary zoning rules to major transit stations. Inclusionary zoning should be allowed beyond these transit stations.
We must increase our housing supply. Instead of building single tract homes on prime farmland, we should plan for walkable transit-friendly neighbourhoods, and regulate and fund the kind of housing our city truly needs, including affordable housing, supportive housing, community housing, and missing middle housing for families. This is how we create a truly livable and green city and protect our farmland and greenspaces for generations to come.