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Oakville politicians and activists condemn quick passage of Bill 23

Neil Huddlestone
Neil Huddlestone

The provincial government’s controversial Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster, is now law.

The legislation, which Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government says will spur badly needed housing construction, was approved on Monday – only 33 days after it was introduced.

The government says it's necessary to help meet the goal of building 1.5 million new homes built in the province over the next decade.  

“I am proud of the action this plan takes to increase the supply of housing of all types and restore the dream of homeownership for a generation of Ontarians,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

But critics warn the legislation will increase property taxes, intensify flooding risks, undermine good planning and create environmental damages – all without making housing more affordable.

Along with allowing up to three units on residential properties with no requirement for rezoning, it will cut fees for developers, re-evaluate heritage rules and limit the role of conservation authorities in development approvals.

Locally, it will eliminate Halton Region’s role in planning.

The coming weeks and months will make it clearer exactly how Bill 23 – and the various other housing-related initiatives recently introduced by the province – will affect Oakville.

But the timing of the legislation has made it almost impossible to offer meaningful comment or feedback on the changes, say local politicians.

Bill 23 was introduced on Oct. 25, the day after the municipal election and three weeks before the new term of council was set to begin.

“I am disappointed that this sweeping legislation has been fast-tracked through in just over a month at a time when municipal councils are just getting organized and sworn in for their new terms,” says Ward 5 councillor Jeff Knoll.

“We have had no time to provide meaningful feedback; there has been no real chance for the public to understand and weigh in on the implications.”

"A win for the development industry," says Knoll

On Nov. 9, outgoing members of Halton regional council heard a brief report from planning staff, who warned that cuts and freezes to development-related fees and charges could cost local taxpayers in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade.

Development charges are collected and used to build growth-related infrastructure, including water and wastewater infrastructure, roads and sidewalks.

Across the province, Bill 23's development charge reductions will cost local municipalities – and existing taxpayers – about $5.1 billion in revenue, estimates the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

For Oakville councillors, the first opportunity to hear about potential local impacts will come during their Dec. 5 planning and development council meeting.

But Knoll doesn’t believe the legislation will bring about more affordable housing.

“This is only a win for the development industry as we lower their costs and fatten their bottom lines with no guarantees that the shifting cost burden will be reflected in reduced new home prices,” he said.

Ward 1 councillor Sean O’Meara echoed that concern and warned that Bill 23 will make it more difficult and costly to build complete communities.

“I have yet to see any evidence that reducing a municipality’s ability to build complete communities will lower house prices or that these costs will be passed on to the new buyers,” he said.

“The speed and lack of proper consultation with municipalities who are the ones impacted here also does not sit well with me. This bill was rushed through, and I really do not think most of our residents understand what was just passed.”

Widespread local criticism

Anger with Bill 23, as well as recent provincial moves to expand Halton’s urban boundary and allow housing on protected Greenbelt land, brought hundreds of Oakville residents out to protest in front of MPP Stephen Crawford’s office last Friday.

Members of GASP, Grand(m)others Act to Save the Planet, were among those who took part.

“GASP is extremely disappointed that against the best advice from municipalities, conservation authorities, farming organizations, housing advocates, environmentalists, planners, and civil society Bill 23 was passed,” said co-chairs Lorraine Green and Carole Holmes, in an email to Oakville News.

“Bill 23 does not address the housing affordability crisis; rather, it simply puts more money into the pockets of billionaire developers at the expense of Ontarians and the natural resources we depend on. It does nothing to address the climate emergency, in fact, will only exacerbate it.”

That sentiment was echoed by Oakvillegreen president Karen Brock, who noted the legislation was approved after a flawed, rushed process.

“Oakvillegreen supports affordable housing, but Bill 23 will not accomplish that goal,” she said. “The environmental damage of the proposed changes packaged in this bill can never be undone.”

A number of Oakville’s resident associations publicly shared their feedback on the legislation, criticizing the downloading of infrastructure costs to existing taxpayers and the potential impact on heritage conservation.

“Bill 23 makes broad drastic changes without providing the necessary detail to implement the changes, which will make it time-consuming, laborious and expensive to deliver the housing supply we need now,” noted the Joshua Creek Residents Association in its submission.

Pamela Knight penned an open letter to Oakville’s Progressive Conservative MPPs Crawford and Effie Triantafilopoulos, urging the pair to resist the provincial housing changes.

“Bill 23 and the associated pieces of legislation that accompany it represent a deliberately calculated demolition of local governments, systematic stripping of municipal powers and an unprecedented suppression of citizens’ rights,” she wrote.

“Our local Members of Parliament have consequential decisions ahead. Will they support the rights of their constituents, or support a government that has clearly chosen a path that demeans and devalues them in favour of land developers and private business?”

"Acting decisively," says Crawford

A newsletter released by Crawford only hours after the vote on Bill 23 defended the province’s actions, arguing that the legislation addresses the urgent need to build homes quickly.

"Ontario is in a housing crisis, and our government is acting decisively to fix it. We know the pace of housing construction in Ontario is not keeping up with demand," says the letter.

Crawford defends the scope of changes to development charge fees, as well as construction within the Greenbelt. He also includes indications of support from affordable housing providers for cuts to development charges.

Read Crawford's entire letter here.