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EDITORIAL: Ford’s poor planning will hurt us all (May/June 2023)

August 8th, 2023 · No Comments

Back in 1973, when Ontario Premier Doug Ford was just nine years old, Conservative Premier Bill Davis brought in the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act. This was the foundational legislation for what we now call the Greenbelt—2 million acres of farmland, forest, wetlands and watersheds in southern Ontario. Every premier since then, of every political stripe, has fought to protect that—until now. Premier Doug Ford is bent on tearing the area apart despite whatever promises he made in the last election, and that destruction is justified by a false premise.

As of last year, over a million housing units were approved or proposed according to a report from the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario (RPCO); many are in the Greenbelt.

The RPCO report was based on data obtained before the province came up with “solutions” to deal with the housing crisis. It turns out the government’s remedy is not the right pill at all. 

“I think [the report] starts to tell the story that the housing supply challenge isn’t really a land supply or development approval problem,” said RPCO chair Tom Hunt. “The bigger problem is how do you compel to build? How do you increase the rate of construction?”

Bill 23 contains a number of controversial elements including waiving development fees for municipalities to build roads, sewers, and schools. This is a plan with serious holes; there are no incentives to build affordable housing and no partnerships with other levels of government to do so. Doug Ford is notoriously unable to play well in a sandbox with others: see the $10-a-day federal day care plan where Ford was so late to the party that this province is still playing catch-up.

Blaming the now very former Liberal government is a familiar go-to for the premier who is apparently unable or unwilling to come up with good policies to govern on his own. Constantly blaming your predecessor is a tired excuse for poor leadership. Looking at the housing crisis solely through the  prisms of “a lack of land” and “a lack of municipal approvals” constitutes a failure to analyze the problem. We have the land and the approvals but lack the incentives to actually build. The real issues are rising interest rates, which make building more expensive, rising inflation, which makes supplies more expensive, and an ongoing labour shortage. Toronto’s chief planner, Gregg Lintern, said the city approved an average of 30,000 residential units per year from 2017 to 2021. During that same period, an average of 16, 000 per year, or just over half, were actually built. Of course, these pressures have only increased since 2021, so the  disincentives to build are exacerbated. 

Destroying the Greenbelt does not make the housing problem go away; it only makes matters worse on many other fronts. We don’t need more highways leading to more single family homes in suburbs. 

We need to safeguard the resources that keep our and water clean, reduce the risk of flooding, and provide a home to southern Ontario’s wildlife.

Ontario is currently losing 319 acres of farmland daily, according to the 2021 Census of Agriculture. That’s roughly one average family farm lost every day to unwise development. Farmland is finite, and treated properly, can be a perpetual source of food for Ontario. Phil Pothen, a Toronto planning and environment lawyer for the group Environmental Defence said that, “we’re kneecapping the country’s food security.”

Ford’s Greenbelt assault appears only to be popular with his developer buddies with whom he has close ties. They somehow knew ahead of time that buying up farmland there was a wise investment. The rest of us will pay for their gains.

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