To all Muskoka Mayors and Councillors.
Climate Action Muskoka (CAM) urges you to join municipalities across the province and take action to speak out against Bill 23, the Build More Homes Faster Act. We call on you to identify the Bill’s abuse of power, expose the implications of key measures in this Bill and call on Premier Doug Ford and MPP Graydon Smith, one of the co-creators of this bill, to withdraw it immediately.
Bill 23, the Build More Homes Faster Act, is an assault on municipal governance, public consultation, and critical climate decision-making both locally and across the province.
The seriousness of this Bill cannot be overstated. It limits municipal powers to enact any policies around land use, climate action, wetland protection, regional/District decision-making, building, and watershed-wide decision-making. It disregards Indigenous and Treaty rights. It strips municipal powers. Bill 23 gives the province the right to supersede municipal decisions, including Official Plans; to override the planning proposals and the advice of staff, including experts like the Muskoka Watershed Council; and to ensure that any significant responses to the Climate Emergency are unattainable.
Intentionally introduced post-election with a very short response timeline, this Bill does not give new councils adequate time to respond. We understand and empathize with the challenges this presents to you as you transition to new members on Council taking over important municipal governance. In spite of this political manouever by the Ford government, Climate Action Muskoka (CAM) urges you to do an in depth analysis of this legislation and respond with urgency.
Among the most significant concerns are:
- Less not more affordable housing will be the outcome of this Bill. Housing experts, including this government’s own advisory board, state the urgent need for both an efficient use of limited resources, materials and infrastructure, and the need for densification in existing communities to meet the housing crisis. This bill will not deliver more housing, just bigger housing with more massive sprawl into rural areas – a developer’s dream.
- Changes to the Planning Act will impact site plan approvals. Some requirements for plans of subdivision, industrial parks, businesses and site plan approvals will not require approval. By amending sec. 23 of the Planning Act, Ministerial Zoning Orders can be used to overturn municipal decisions. This could open Muskoka to massive development exploitation at a time when protecting Muskoka for future generations has become an increasingly shared value across the District.
- Development fees, community benefit charges and parkland requirements will be removed including but not limited to affordable housing. This will seriously diminish the ability of municipalities to do their own planning, to manage their own budget, to protect any land, or have policies to try and protect the environment or the economy.
- Tax increases will be the only way for municipalities to pay for development when these development fees and permitting approvals are removed at the municipal level in order to expedite building. Municipalities will need to pay for the infrastructure services into these new developments in spite of being unable to collect development fees. There is no guarantee that the savings to developers to expedite building will reduce costs and make housing more affordable.
- Ecological, wholistic watershed planning is eradicated. It is being replaced by political boundary decision-making which will eradicate the integrated planning of lower tiers of government. As written, it will seriously compromise our region’s ability to protect wetlands, forests, farmlands and fragile ecosystems. Decision-making will be fragmented and resources inadequate to do the job in every little community. This is a gift to developers and they are celebrating. It is also a nail in the coffin of climate mitigation and adaptation.
- Green Building Standards are gutted. The provisions of this Bill particularly attack municipalities’ ability to require green building standards some of which are already in place in many communities across the province. While our local municipalities across Muskoka were only just on the verge of developing green building initiatives, this provision will seriously impact our ability to put the necessary standards in place. This means that it will be more difficult to build energy-efficient, climate resilient buildings which are both more affordable for residents and essential if we are to meet the legislated commitments to reduce GHG emissions as adopted by both District and municipalities across Muskoka.
- Climate Action will be restricted. We know buildings and transportation are the two highest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Implementing upfront building standards (low carbon materials, air-source heat pumps) is far cheaper than the cost of retrofits down the line and saves home-owners considerable energy costs. Bill 23 will severely restrict and even eliminate the ability of a municipality to require this upfront energy efficiency in the design of new housing.
- Wetlands will be redefined. This legislation changes the criteria for the designation of critical wetlands and will result in the removal of some of our most essential natural heritage. The new criteria will make it difficult to protect wetlands from development. This weakens our ability to respond to climate change, maintain essential biodiversity, prevent flooding in extreme weather events and retain irreplaceable carbon sinks.
- Conservation Authorities stripped of power. Conservation Authorities (CA) will no longer rule on the environmental impact of a proposed development on protected farmland (our food security), habitat, and waterbodies. The CA will not be able to prevent construction debris from impacting water supplies. This Bill opens the door to more contamination of land and water, more flooding and landslides. While we do not have a Conservation Authority in Muskoka, we are working hard to implement an Integrated Watershed Management Plan to make land use planning decisions to protect both the economy and ecological integrity of Muskoka, an imperative if we are to respond to the urgency of the climate crisis. This Bill will jeopardize not only our region’s opportunities to make climate responsible decisions across all jurisdictions but it will also harm climate resiliency across all of Ontario.
- It violates Treaty and Indigenous Rights. Consultation and reconciliation efforts are not addressed in this Bill. Nowhere is there room for an Indigenous voice at the table.
- Bill 23 overrides Democratic Rights. Bill 23 removes requirements regarding public notification and public meetings on planning matters and removes the right for citizens to appeal planning decisions. These provisions infringe on our democratic rights and principles and must not be supported.
- It overrides municipalities’ right to manage their money. Bill 23 requires municipalities to spend or allocate 60% of reserve funds annually making it difficult if not impossible to use development charges to gather funds for large infrastructure projects and for future needs for infrastructure growth.
- Reduces the number of affordable housing units and restricts time periods for affordability. While removing exclusionary zoning, it is watered down to have little impact on increasing affordable housing with compact, low cost, multiple-unit housing within our communities. We need to be able to add townhomes, semi-detached and walk-up apartments to our existing neighbourhoods to ensure the need for fewer cars, to provide walkable access to services, and to increase public transit within and between our communities. This Bill will instead build sprawl into our rural areas with irreversible consequences both to the landscape, the watershed, and to GHG reduction targets.
Many other municipalities are working night and day to respond to this egregious legislation. We urge you to be part of a unified voice of municipal dissent from across the province. The only benefactors of this legislation will be a few developers and land speculators who will profit enormously. Bill 23 is a developers’ charter for unrestrained and unregulated growth. It will not contribute to more affordable and attainable housing. Instead, it will undermine our ability to build climate resilient, livable and affordable neighbourhoods. It will gut environmental protections and prevent decisive climate action.
The Secretary General of the UN, at the opening of COP27 last week said, “We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot firmly on the accelerator.” Bill 23 is a Made in Ontario example.
We ask you, our local leaders, to join other municipalities and organizations across the province. Together, we must stand up and say “Stop!”
Linda Mathers, Muskoka Lakes
Sue McKenzie, Gravenhurst
Len Ring, Gravenhurst
Tamsen Tillson, Bracebridge
Melinda Zytaruk, Lake of Bays
Lesley Hastie, Huntsville
Joanne Tanaka, Huntsville
On behalf of Climate Action Muskoka
Association of Ontario Municipalities: Unpacking Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 | AMO
Environmental Defence: Ontario’s Housing Bill is Actually a Trojan Horse for Environmentally Catastrophic Rural Sprawl
Ontario Nature: Bill 23 Backgrounder – November 2022 – Page 1 (publitas.com)
Canadian Environmental Law Association:
Reviewing Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 (cela.ca)
Canadian Environmental Law Association:
Environmental Defence Webinar on Bill 23:
Bait and Switch: Understanding Bill 23, The ‘More Sprawl, Fewer Wetlands’ Act – YouTube
In the Media:
Ottawa Citizen: City of Ottawa staff have analyzed the local impacts of the province’s new housing bill, and their conclusions are grim
CBC News: Hamilton housing and climate advocates protest Ontario’s proposed ‘More Homes Built Faster Act’
Storeys Real Estate News: https://storeys.com/death-sentence-for-greenbelt-experts-housing-plan/
Spare News (pentictonherald.ca): Ford’s Bill 23 is ‘ecological insanity’, implodes sustainable urban planning in unhinged give over to sprawl developers