Transparency needed around BILD, the massive lobby group funded by the development and construction industries that controls much of our local planning
New data from the farm census indicates that we are now losing 319 acres of farmland per day. That’s a farmland area three quarters the size of Toronto (155,700 acres) lost every year.
How is this happening? Where, and why?
BILD, a lobby organization funded by Ontario’s most powerful developers and construction companies, worked behind the scenes and in public meetings to secure as much land for development as possible. So far, they’ve swept across Peel, York, and Durham Regions recently, achieving Council endorsement to destroy approximately 30,000 additional acres of farmland for new development. That’s about three times the size of Aurora.
Jenni Le Forestier has delegated in front of Caledon Council numerous times and watched development consultants and lobby group BILD dictate decision making for years.
(Image: Jenni Le Forestier)
BILD is the self-described “voice of the land development, home building and professional renovation industry…”. Its staff represent and act in the interests of its approximately 1,300 member companies. Regional Councils have accepted BILD’s interests as the public’s, ignoring their own professional staff as well as the actual public, NGO’s & ENGO’s, all of whom provided ample evidence that the GTA does not need this much additional land to accommodate future growth, if the Province’s own legislation is followed. Almost all the public feedback through consultation, letters and deputations pleading Councils across the GTA to act on housing affordability, climate change and the creation of complete communities instead of more destructive sprawl, was ignored: BILD successfully lobbied politicians across Ontario to approve more sprawl and to ignore their own residents.
York Region Council decided last October to endorse such a low population density that, to comply with provincial direction, they artificially boosted their population target for 2051. One of the reasons for this was Council's support for a BILD-developed plan for whitebelt sprawl in unserviced East Gwillimbury, cheerfully peddled and brought forward by Mayor Virginia Hackson. There was no evidence of public or staff support for the development option York Region Council chose; in fact, it was quite the opposite, with residents issuing stark warnings about financial and legal liability. They want to know who is going to pay the crippling costs of infrastructure required to service houses in the middle of nowhere. The answer: they will. And they know it.
Last week, Durham Council chose a 30-year development scenario, created, supported and submitted last minute by BILD. Staff wrote a report opposing this and warned that it didn’t comply with provincial legislation. The BILD-supported scenario allowed no time for public consultation and was not backed by three in-house advisory committees.
It didn’t matter.
While BILD’s presence behind the scenes is not clear in Peel, it was the lobby group’s members who were heard. Peel Region applied its procedural by-law in an ad-hoc manner resulting in a double standard that stifled public voices but allowed those representing private landowner-interests (mostly developers who have already assembled properties for sprawl) to be heard and supported. The public sent over 1,000 letters opposing expansion of the urban boundary, yet in April, Peel Council approved 11,000 acres of additional farmland and greenspace for sprawl. The provincially protected Greenbelt will almost certainly fall victim to developer-driven plans, as the new boundary pushes development right to the edge of the world’s largest ecologically sensitive corridor protected by legislation (under the PC government that legislation was merely an inconvenience which is now being circumvented).
Peel and Durham may as well burn their climate emergency declarations, along with any commitments made by York, as they have chosen to lock-in the land use pattern that contributes most to GHG emissions and loss of carbon sinks.
While the lack of democracy at the municipal level is shocking, the enabling starts with the Province. The Doug Ford-led PC government bullied municipalities to conform to their new sprawl-inducing Official Plans with a tight, looming deadline (why not wait until after Thursday’s election?) and reinforced this by introducing a new rule that allows the Ontario Land Tribunal—well-stocked with party supporters and stripped of environmental specialists—to decide if municipal/regional Official Plans satisfy the PC government’s poorly communicated criteria for future growth. This sudden, loosely formed criteria, which contradicts existing provincial legislation, almost word-for-word falls in line with what BILD has advocated for. Any surprise?
If politicians continue to ignore government-paid subject matter experts, legal advice and listen only to private sector interests, they are subjecting local taxpayers they represent to an unacceptable level of risk. Should politicians who ignore the warnings continue to have indemnity for the decisions they make? Shouldn’t the public know more about BILD and how it influences local politicians? If municipal staff increasingly take their cues from development consultants and their lawyers, what’s the point in electing local councillors to supposedly represent us?
In the end it is the property taxpayer, you and me, who pays for the consequences of irresponsible land-use decisions that result in worsening climate change, more flooding, poor water and air quality, loss of farmland and habitat and a higher cost of living for all of us.
What about the politicians? They enjoy self-approved raises paid by taxpayers and all the benefits BILD’s lobbying efforts come with.
Never have we seen such accommodation of private pecuniary interests in matters of public interest. There is more at stake now than ever before, as we burn past every degree of global temperature increase, moving our planet closer to the point of no return.
The protection of our agricultural lands and greenspaces and the prevention of more carbon-creating sprawl is now one of the UN’s biggest priorities in the climate crisis.
That the Province is threatening municipalities if they don’t do their dirty work is an indication of just how far Doug Ford and his PCs are willing to go to help their friends at BILD.
Jenni Le Forestier is a resident of Caledon, a former federal Green Party candidate, community advocate for StopThe413 and co-chair of Stop Sprawl Peel.
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