Blog By: Kassie Burns
November and December are always busy months in the year. Last year, through the chaos of the holiday season, the Ontario government decided it was a perfect time to pass Bill 23: More Homes Built Faster Act. This new piece of legislation aims to address Ontario’s housing crisis by eliminating input on residential development from individuals and municipalities. This allows development to proceed on conservation and agricultural land, and would allow for the destruction of Indigenous sites, wetlands, and forests without dispute.
Bill 23 has raised questions surrounding the authority conservations hold, if “protected areas” can now be developed on. The consequences of developing on these grounds, such as the critical greenbelt, would be drastic, and there are deep concerns relating to conservation authorities’ ability to protect people and infrastructure from flooding, erosion, and slope failures (Rideau Valley Conservation Authority) if development is allowed. Further risks to developing on these protected lands involve water supply and food scarcity, all amplified by climate change.
Although the housing crisis needs solutions fast, this legislation is not the way to resolve the issue (City of St. Catharines, 2022). Instead of helping housing, the City of St. Catharines states that the bill “fails to address the goals of increasing housing supply, housing affordability, and improved process”, where the city and Niagara Region are expecting to be severely impacted with financial implications. Community planning and building has been a process that has critically required all levels of collaboration, and this is now being diminished to create divisions and conflict (City of St. Catharines).
Alternative forms of housing development have begun to emerge, as exemplified with plans for the Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke. The plan in progress would build various apartments and condos vertically on top of the mall to transform the location into a community neighbourhood. The plans add green rooftops and vegetation between buildings. Additional benefits come with walking distances to fitness-wellness centres, art and culture programs, restaurants, shopping, and parks. This mode of development showcases that Ontario does not lack land for development, but rather, we lack innovative approaches to housing development which conserve nature and wildlife and do not contribute to growing issues of habitat fragmentation, biodiversity loss, and increased prevalence of invasive species. The government exacerbates the situation by already having excess land approved for development to meet the needs of the Act, yet they still choose to encroach on protected lands and increase urban sprawl. This fact has been widely discussed in the media and more details can be found in this article.
Unfortunately, taking these alternative development strategies and already approved land into consideration did not seem to be on the government’s agenda when addressing this bill. “Bill 23 has no regard or consideration for infrastructure funding, asset management, environmental systems, public realm, and quality of space”, stated a spokesperson for the City of St. Catharines. The new Act brings with it immense environmental, social, and economic impacts that jeopardize human health and well-being, and results in a huge leap backwards instead of progressing forward to a more sustainable future (City of St. Catharines).
Hope remains that with enough awareness, action, and voices heard, Bill 23 can be repealed. We ask you to act by signing Environmental Defence Canada’s petition.
City of St. Catharines. (2022). Bill 23 – More Homes Build Faster Act. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.stcatharines.ca/en/planning-and-development/bill-23.aspx#Response-and-Recommendation
Cloverdale Mall. (2022). The proposed Cloverdale. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.cloverdalemall.com/futureofcloverdale/proposed-cloverdale/
Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. (2022). Bill 23: Less Protection, More Cost, Diminished Local Decision-Making. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.rvca.ca/media-releases/bill-23-less-protection-more-cost-diminished-local-decision-making#:~:text=Bill%2023%20proposes%20sweeping%20changes,over%20the%20past%20two%20years%E2%80%9D.