Bill 23 is an omnibus bomb, comes with steep costs
We are in a housing crisis. Bill 23 is proposing 1.5 million new homes in the next 10 years. So why are organizations as varied as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Ontario Nature, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) all raising serious concerns?
Bill 23 is an omnibus bomb: it promises new housing at the steep – and, crucially, unnecessary – cost of lost farmland and natural areas, emasculated environmental regulations, and increased municipal taxes.
The Ontario government struck a Housing Affordability Task Force for guidance on this pressing issue. Their 2022 Task Force report recommended the 1.5 million homes target and noted this as a rare opportunity where “everyone was aligned”. They also observed: “… a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem… Greenbelts and other environmentally sensitive areas must be protected, and farms provide food and food security.” In 2018 Premier Ford promised: “I heard it loud and clear people don’t want me touching the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt.”
Yet Bill 23 is proposing the opposite of the Task Force recommendations in this regard and what Premier Ford promised. Who gains from the overreaches in this bill? Developers and their profits? Who loses? All of us, and our environment.
Drew Spoelstra, on behalf of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, writes “Our members, from Windsor to Winchester, have told us over and over again that prime agriculture land is irreplaceable and worth fighting for… Once [farmland is] lost to development,it is gone forever… only about five per cent of all the land in Ontario … [is] arable land… the proposed changes to the Greenbelt and paving over prime farmland represent a step in the wrong direction.”
Ontario Nature, one of many extremely alarmed environmental organizations, warns “Bill 23 and the accompanying policy changes spell disaster for the farmland and natural areas that sustain us… This omnibus bill proposes sweeping changes to the province’s natural heritage and land use planning legislation and policy… removing and weakening environmental protections and excluding the public from meaningful involvement in land use planning and decisions affecting their communities…[while also] proposing several significant policy changes that would exacerbate the profound and devastating impacts of the bill on Ontario’s natural heritage.”
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario further forewarns that the Bill may cause “the transfer of up to $1 billion a year in costs from private sector developers to property taxpayers without any likelihood of improved housing affordability.”
As Trina Berlo noted last week, this bill may cost the County of Simcoe at least $175 million in lost revenue – and according to the County will lead to an “at least” four per cent increase in property taxes. County of Simcoe’s Director of Planning
Westendorp bluntly observed it will lead to “communities that we won’t want to live in.”
We can do better – the original Housing Affordability Task Force recommendations may be a good place to start.
As Brenna Lattimore wrote last week, it is important to use our power as citizens to speak out: supporting an organization working on refining this bill, writing or calling your council, and writing to your provincial government. MPP Saunderson observed “My sense is, [our government is] aware there’s some tuning to be done, so … input is very helpful.” He wants to hear from you!
If you are concerned about saving Ontario farmland and protecting our natural environment, and resisting municipal tax increases that benefit developers, please consider joining the rally at MPP Saunderson’s office, 7317 Hwy 26 Stayner, Saturday, Nov. 26, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.