Doug Ford backs off plan to allow developers to build in the Greenbelt
One of the most contentious portions of a wide-reaching piece of provincial legislation – that would have allowed developers to build in the protected Greenbelt – is being scrapped by the PC government.
Since its introduction in December, Bill 66 has been the target of a backlash by environmental advocates, municipal leaders and the public as a threat to not only the Greenbelt and other protected areas, but sustainable development and smart growth policies in general.
Now, the Doug Ford government is taking a step back on the all-encompassing power the bill was originally set to bestow upon municipalities when making decisions around land use. A section of the proposed legislation would allow municipalities to disregard laws preventing encroachment into sensitive and protected lands, in order to attract business, if the province approved.
Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark
Bill 66 was introduced Dec. 6, when it passed its first reading. Schedule 10 of the proposed legislation deals with the Planning Act, which governs growth in the province by placing strict rules on municipalities about how and where they can grow. The section of the proposed new bill would have overridden sections of the Planning Act and other legislation that currently prevent encroachment into the Greenbelt and other environmentally protected lands. The government, after a firestorm was unleashed because of the planned give-away to the development industry, now says it will remove Schedule 10 when the legislature opens for business.
In a series of tweets, minister for municipal affairs Steve Clark noted that the intent behind the bill was to reduce red tape for development and shorten the time it takes to move a project from application to completion.
However, the section is now being scrapped.
“The use of this tool would never be approved at the expense of the Greenbelt or other provincial interests like water quality or public health and safety,” Clark tweeted. “Our Government for the People has listened to the concerns raised by MPPs, municipalities and stakeholders with regards to Schedule 10 of Bill 66 and when the legislature returns in February, we will not proceed with Schedule 10 of the Bill.”
The PC government’s Bill 66 — Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act — hit Queen’s Park late in 2018 and immediately drew concerns from many across the GTA, including politicians and environmental advocates.
Brampton city staff provided their own comments on the bill, which went before council earlier this month. The memo, chock full of questions, concerns and comments in regard to the PC bill, noted that staff were looking for clarity in the definitions for certain aspects of the proposed legislation and also wanted to shore up what exactly the bill would allow them to do.
Mayor Patrick Brown had already shared his stance against the plan and its potential impacts on the environment.
“This is not what people want,” he said after Bill 66 was introduced.
During the municipal election campaign last fall Brown campaigned on a pledge to take back the reins of development at city hall. The sprawling expanses of Brampton’s single-family suburbia have been built mostly at the desire and whim of developers, without a larger cohesive plan in place.
Schedule 10 would work directly in opposition to smart-growth policies such as the province’s Places to Grow Act and Brampton’s own blueprint for the city’s future growth, 2040 Vision, a planning document approved by the previous council that considered input from 13,000 residents and outlines a strategy to move away from sprawl and build compact, dynamic communities within the city as it grows to almost one million residents by 2040.
Ford represents an opposite view of growth. The bill as originally proposed made good on Ford's election pledge to developers, which slipped out to the public thanks to a video of a private campaign event in Markham last February. After talking to “some of the biggest developers in this country,” Ford said, he would open vast expanses of the Greenbelt for them to build on, if elected: “A big chunk of it,” Ford promised the men gathered in the room.
Under the section of the bill the government now says it will scrap, municipalities working on a specific project — such as attracting a major employer to the region — would have been able to pass a bylaw to request provincial approval to override certain regulations.
The Greenbelt —800,000 acres of farmland, marsh and ecologically sensitive space, a 7,200-square-kilometre area that rings the Golden Horseshoe, protected by government legislation to prevent more urban sprawl in the hyper-growth region — would be opened up like some Wild West gold rush, under Ford's purview.
When someone leaked the video to the Liberals and it became public, Ontario voters were alarmed. Ford quickly recanted, reversing his commitment to the developers after sensing how unpopular the move would be.
But then he flip-flopped again in December with the alarming introduction of Bill 66.
It included a smorgasbord of amendments to various pieces of legislation, seeking to scrap red tape in the hope of creating more jobs. Ford directed his comments to municipal leaders, saying that if the bill became law they could ask permission to pass “open-for-business” bylaws. The language is vague, but the possible consequences are clear: “Certain provisions of the (Planning) Act and other Acts that would ordinarily apply to a by-law passed under section 34 do not apply to an open-for-business planning by-law.”
Section 34 of Ontario’s Planning Act, partially titled “Land Use Controls,” lays out restrictions imposed on municipalities when considering zoning allowances for everything from new housing development to building commercial and industrial buildings. Greenbelt protection laws are highlighted in section 34 of the Planning Act, which states that municipalities cannot zone for anything that would violate these land-protecting measures.
If Ford had been allowed to do what he wanted, Bill 66 would override those protections, letting municipalities, with the province’s permission, return to old planning strategies that permitted sprawl, while eschewing smart growth.
Brown wasn’t a lone voice against Ford’s planned gift to the development industry. Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward told the Toronto Star, after Bill 66 was introduced, that she stood firm in “in our commitment to protecting our greenbelt from development and protecting our farm families and rural agricultural economy.”
She and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said there’s no need to open up the Greenbelt for business.
A 2016 Neptis Foundation report looked back and found that less than 20 percent of the land supply in the GTHA designated greenfield area had been built on since 2006. A closer look at where development has occurred across municipalities in the GTHA shows that Brampton, Vaughan and Milton together account for nearly 45 percent of the hectares urbanized so far. Even so, these three municipalities still have plenty of land to build on — about 15,700 hectares, or 35 percent of the remaining land supply in the GTHA.
Brampton NDP MPP Sara Singh, the party’s deputy leader, tweeted out a comment from her colleague Peter Tabuns, the Toronto MPP who has been a staunch advocate for green policies.
"By working together, concerned people and groups — including municipalities, environmental advocates, agricultural organizations and the Official Opposition — have been successful in holding off Ford's attack on the Greenbelt," Tabuns said.
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