With Bill 108 about to pass, MPPs and municipalities team up to fight the developer-friendly legislation
As the governing PCs rushed to push through the controversial Bill 108 at Queen’s Park, consecutive days of debate saw almost unanimous condemnation from NDP and Liberal MPPs, who slammed 108 for doing nothing to address the affordable housing crisis, despite its billing. Opposition members claim it will threaten the environment and encourage urban sprawl with its developer-friendly policies.
This week’s debate was the culmination of a consistent backlash against the More Homes, More Choices Act since it was brought forward by Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing, on May 2.
But after a vote – following its third reading and the subsequent debate – was deferred inside Queen’s Park Wednesday, it could be pushed through as early as Thursday.
The main thrust of the bill is to reform Ontario’s land use planning and conservation regulations, under the rationale of making housing more affordable. The bill could have sweeping effects on development and land use planning policy in Ontario. Also, reversing a move by the previous Liberal government, the PC bill reverts land use disputes by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) back to the process followed by the agency it replaced, the Ontario Municipal Board. The previous system was highly criticized for favouring developers and giving little weight to municipal decision-making power, two issues thought to have been eliminated with the previous government’s introduction of the LPAT, which gave supremacy to municipal and regional official plans set by locally elected officials. Unlike the old OMB model, which could override a municipality’s official plan, the Liberal’s introduced a model that effectively forced developers to follow established planning principles. Bill 108 would again put developers in the driver’s seat, allowing them to successfully argue in disputes that their plans are what’s best for a community’s needs.
While debate on the bill’s third reading was taking place inside Queen’s Park Wednesday, Toronto Councillor Mike Colle wasn’t pulling his punches, calling Doug Ford “The Developer’s Premier” on Twitter.
Bill 108’s clauses favouring the development industry and sprawl could put the future of Brampton’s 2040 Vision and its attempts to modernize land use policies in jeopardy.
MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale–NDP) put it bluntly, stating that Bill 108 is legislation that caters to the donors of the PC party, many of which are in the development industry.
“Bill 108 is a bill that gives developers free rein to trample on the environment by paying a fee,” Bell said. “That’s not right. This bill is not going to do much to address the affordable housing crisis.”
Ottawa-Vanier MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers spoke at length at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, labelling the bill as “discouraging” and stating the consultation process (less than a month for a bill that will amend 13 pieces of provincial legislation) “short-changed” the public.
“This felt so disrespectful of the people of Ontario,” she said.
The government offered only a single day of public consultation on the bill. MPPs claimed that when the consultation closed for the day, many members of the public and concerned groups had not been offered a chance to speak about their concerns.
This “cut the people out entirely,” said Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison (NDP), who went on to quote from submissions from both the City of Brampton and the City of Mississauga, raising serious concerns about the bill and its implications for cities.
“We are listening to municipalities outside of Toronto,” Morrison said, noting many are concerned that Bill 108’s proposed changes to the Development Charges Act threaten municipal revenues and will put an increased burden on property taxpayers. “We hear this over and over again in these written submissions,” she said.
The fees municipalities are able to levy on developers would get sweeping alterations under Bill 108. Most significantly, cities won’t be able to collect charges to help pay for soft services, such as libraries and recreation facilities.
Possible impact on Brampton revenue if Bill 108 passes
For Brampton, this has significant implications, putting approximately $388 million of potential revenue at risk over the next 10 years, raising financial barriers for many capital projects. In 2019, 28 percent of the city’s capital budget is funded through development charges.
Charges cities will still be able to levy against developers—for roads, public works infrastructure and transit—will no longer be collected upfront. Currently, municipalities construct needed infrastructure ahead of time to facilitate development, taking on the cost as debt, which is then eliminated as development moves forward and the charges are paid.
Instead, Bill 108 proposes that development charges be paid through six annual instalments, beginning only after occupancy of the development.
“This presents cash-flow challenges to the city,” city treasurer David Sutton previously told councillors.
How Brampton will be impacted by Bill 108
Over the next decade, Brampton plans to collect nearly $2 billion in development fees for fire, transit, public works and roads infrastructure. However, under Bill 108, other sources of revenue may be necessary to make up the difference created by the new collection system. This means hiking taxes on property owners or taking on more debt.
For residential ratepayers in Peel Region, who have had to shoulder more and more of the tax burden in recent years because of sluggish growth in the commercial and industrial sectors, this is particularly bad news.
These changes also caught the attention of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), which pointed out concerns in a submission to the province.
Development charges are a major source of revenue for recovering the cost of building infrastructure for Ontario’s growing communities. At present, those charges only cover about 80 percent of the costs of growth-related projects. That means property taxes are already subsiding the cost of growth and municipalities are falling short of achieving the principle, “growth should pay for growth,” according to AMO’s submission. “Bill 108 will complicate the local public administration of development charges. There is great concern that these changes will have the effect of decreasing the value of the DCs municipalities receive while at the same time, increasing the municipal administrative burden.”
Environmental and wildlife advocates have also launched campaigns to halt the province’s bulldozing forward with the bill, demanding further consultation on the effects of the bill.
“Bill 108 will grease the wheels of destruction, making it easier and faster for sprawl developers and industry to dodge legal requirements to protect endangered species and their habitats. The proposed changes will delay, limit and remove the safeguards that the law is intended to provide for species at risk, many of which are in steep decline,” according to Dr. Anne Bell, director of conservation and education with Ontario Nature.
MPP Des Rosiers attempted to pause debate on Bill 108 on Tuesday, but her motion was quashed 53–5 by the PC majority.
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