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FORUM: Ford takes aim at democracy and the Greenbelt (Dec. 2022)

December 13th, 2022 · No Comments

It’s power for power’s sake not about sound policy

By Jessica Bell

The Ford government’s Bill 39 is a direct attack on representative democracy. The bill bulldozes local decision-making so Doug Ford can wield more power while making it easier for his developer friends to get rich paving over the Greenbelt.

Bill 39  is a short and devastating document. Schedule 1 amends the City of Toronto Act to give the mayor the power to pass laws that align with provincial priorities with the support of just eight out of 24 councillors. The premier has yet to define its provincial priorities in regulation or law, but we can guess it will be about development, housing, and transit. This schedule is an attack on citizen power, the authority of our elected officials to represent us well, and majority rule, which is a basic tenant of representative democracy. 

I walked down from Queen’s Park to city hall on the first day of city council. I, along with hundreds of others, watched Mayor Tory sitting entrenched in his corner seat, eyes forward, studiously avoiding the hundreds of citizens watching the proceedings. It astonishes me that Mayor Tory asked for this minority rule power under the pretense that he needs to address the housing crisis that has been made worse by his decisions over the past eight years. Really, this is all about power.

Schedule 2 permits development on an area of the Greenbelt called the Duffin Rouge Agricultural Preserve. Over 1300 acres in this area are owned by the De Gasperis Family, one of the PC party’s biggest donors. The De Gasperis family bought the land cheap when it was zoned for farmland. With the passage of Bill 39, the developers stand to make untold profit because the land will be zoned for development. Given the huge amount of money PC party donors stand to gain from Bill 39, we have asked the auditor general to investigate for corruption or conflict of interest.  On the face of it, it stinks.

Schedule 3 gives the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing the authority to appoint regional council chairs in Niagara, Peel, and York, overriding municipal elections. This is all about reducing oversight over sprawl. Regional municipalities co-ordinate planning and development for a region; they get to decide what gets built and where, from homes and employment lands, to sewerage and roads. Giving Ford permission to appoint his yes people will make it easier for him to approve development on farmland.

For over 50 years, governments of all political stripes, from Bill Davis to Dalton McGuinty, worked to strengthen and expand the Greenbelt. They, like us, understood the economic, social and environmental value of preserving Ontario’s farmlands, forests, rivers, and wetlands.

Ford’s plan has nothing to do with solving the housing crisis. The government’s own Housing Affordability Taskforce stated that access to land is not limiting new housing supply. The taskforce called for ending exclusionary zoning, building more affordable missing middle homes, and increasing density on transit routes. These are “yes in my backyard” measures that I support, along with government investment in building affordable homes and supportive homes, and far stronger protections for renters.

It took thousands of years to secure representative democracy. It wasn’t given to us—our ancestors worked for it, agitated for it, and died for it. Torontonians and Ontarians: it’s time to work together to defend and strengthen our democracy again. Reach out if you want to get involved or want to tell our team what you’re working on.

Jessica Bell is MPP for University-Rosedale and the Housing Critic for the Official Opposition at Queen’s Park.


Tags: Annex · Opinion