Doug Ford’s provincial government was a breath of fresh air for the residential building industry in Ontario as well as for new home buyers. For 13 years, the Liberals had enacted legislation after legislation that restricted land supply, lengthened approval times, increased regulatory processes for both low-rise and high-rise, eliminated the ability of what was then the Ontario Municipal Board and now the Ontario Land Tribunal to provide an unbiased judicial body to look at zoning applications and prevent nimbyism from taking over municipal politics.
The Conservatives came in with a platform to balance the marketplace. They brought in legislation such as Bill 109 and many other pieces of legislation that:
- Brought back the independent zoning tribunal now called the Ontario Land Tribunal (“OLT”) to move zoning applications faster. They increased the number of adjudicators and created a mandate to eliminate the backlog;
- They brought in rules to eliminate frivolous appeals to the OLT and also to limit the endless public consultations that were being used by municipalities to delay and delay projects and allow nimbyism to be king;
- They brought in a consistent housing policy that eliminated Section 37 negotiations and replaced it with the community benefit charge system that were clear, open and equal to all developers;
- They brought in caps on development charges, parkland dedication fees to slow down the growth of never ending municipal charges;
- They tried to eliminate government over-regulation and double approval processes with regional and lower tier governments across Ontario, other than Toronto and Ottawa, which required 2 levels of government for every major zoning or official plan change;
- Official Plans that were required to be passed by each of the municipalities consistent with provincial policy that would enhance intensification, have been mired and delayed with delays in many jurisdictions. Or in other cases, official plans were drafted that were not consistent with provincial policy. The province moved to eliminate the backlog of official plans and move them forward on their own;
- The province moved to expand certain municipal boundaries of existing intensified cities that required more land for growth.
All of these were for the benefit of potential home owners looking for new homes. Supply would have been enhanced, costs would have been reduced and timelines for approvals also reduced.
Unfortunately, the province for reasons that continue to puzzle the writer, decided to first open up the Greenbelt after Ford in his original campaign made it clear that he was never going to open it up. The government did this knowing that the Greenbelt is one of the most sensitive political issues that can be dealt with. Rather than handling it with kid gloves and making any process to take away lands from the Greenbelt fully transparent, they chose to do it behind closed doors without any open process. The results may or may not have been the same had they gone through a fair and open process for all builders who had lands that they felt were appropriate to be removed from the Greenbelt based on clear, consistent and defined criteria. But at least the Greenbelt moves would have bene transparent and open. This did not happen.
Much of the good work that the government had done to date for housing has backfired on it because of the Greenbelt. Now other initiatives that they undertook are being questioned or reversed by the government, including many of those I have noted above such as the approval of official plans, expansion of municipal boundaries and the elimination of certain regional governments, etc.
The building industry and BILD itself had been extremely supportive of the government’s initiatives that attempted to undo the 13 years of damage to the industry that the McGuinty and Wynne governments had inflicted on both builders and home owners. Now, unfortunately, they have taken several steps backwards and builders and new home buyers alike are being harmed.
The new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Paul Calandra, apologized to the industry at an industry luncheon in early December 2023 for these negative steps he was taking. Doug Ford's housing minister apologizes to developers for Greenbelt fiasco (thestar.com) In fact, in his speech that is basically all he did, was to repeat his apologies to the builders in the room for the way the Greenbelt fiasco was handled and the reversal of policies that the government was considering.
Recently, Dave Wilkes, President and CEO of BILD, in a press release in December 2023 stated that the government has “no coherent housing plan” based on the various steps recently taken. The Toronto Star interviewed Dave Wilkes last week. Builders slam Ford government for 'no coherent' housing plan (thestar.com)
Some of the highlights and strongest statements that Dave Wilkes made included:
“These decisions, "coupled with the announcement to review its commitment to reduce taxes on new housing through proposed changes to development charges has created unmanageable uncertainty for the housing industry," Wilkes said.
In the space of a few short weeks, in the middle of the most significant housing crisis this region has faced, this government has made decisions that effectively cancelled nearly 300,000 housing units" in the Toronto, Hamilton and the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Wilkes wrote.”
Clearly, this government is now attempting to reverse the tremendous negative publicity it has faced as a result of the Greenbelt legislation and the opposition from some of the municipalities to the Ford government’s efforts to move forward their official plans and also to expand municipal boundaries.
It remains to be seen where this government will land in terms of a coherent and effective housing policy that will do all the things that home owners want: more supply, lower cost and faster building.