Smart Growth for Our Communities Act

June 2, 2015

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I’m pleased to rise today to speak to Bill 73, the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act.

The last time I spoke to this bill, in April, I explained why this debate was premature. I explained that the government had only just launched the land use planning review of the greenbelt, the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges moraine and the growth plan. The result of that review will impact the Planning Act. But instead of waiting to hear the results, the minister has already introduced legislation that would make changes to the act. That’s not a sign of a government that’s listening.

We’ve heard that about 3,000 people took time to come out to those review meetings to share their thoughts and concerns. We know that numerous organizations took time to analyze what is working and where there are challenges that could be fixed. They are taking time to put together comprehensive, well-thought-out proposals for changes to make the three plans more consistent, to protect our natural heritage and to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in the protected areas. But instead of waiting to hear from all those people and organizations, the government introduced legislation to make changes to the Planning Act. I’m disappointed that the government is making partial changes without taking the time to get it right and without waiting for the results of the review to develop a comprehensive plan.

This bill also makes changes to the Ontario Municipal Board process. As you may know, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Attorney General were tasked in their mandate letters with a review of the Ontario Municipal Board. That review hasn’t even started, but the minister has introduced legislation to amend appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board.

I think we all agree that the system could work better, but we need a proper review to ensure that we make the right changes. Neither of those reviews has been completed since the last time this bill was debated, but there are a number of other things that have happened.

Our party elected a new leader, Patrick Brown, and we are pleased to have someone who is so hard-working and committed to listening to Ontarians, contrary to what this government is doing. Since the last time we debated this bill, the government introduced their budget and increased spending by another $2.4 billion, and the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association released the results of their annual surveys, which show that the waiting list for affordable housing has reached a record high. There are now over 168,000 families waiting for affordable housing in Ontario. That’s what has happened since the last time this bill came forward for debate.

Here’s what hasn’t happened: The comment period for this bill on the EBR Environmental Registry hasn’t finished; numerous stakeholders haven’t finished their analysis of the impact of this bill; we haven’t had the results of the land use review or the launch of the Ontario Municipal Board review; and the government hasn’t taken any action to move forward my bill, the Housing Services Corporation Accountability Act, to stop the misuse of social housing dollars. I hope that before the next time we debate this bill, all of these things will have happened.

Mr. Speaker, as I said during the first part of my lead-off speech, municipal planning and the Planning Act are a matter of balance. It’s about ensuring that individual communities and businesses have input into the future of their communities. It’s about addressing concerns while ensuring that the good projects can move forward. It’s about ensuring that families can have a home and new businesses can be built and create jobs, while controlling sprawl, protecting our environment and preserving agricultural land.

In fact, a few months ago before the land use planning review for the greenbelt, Oak Ridges moraine, Niagara Escarpment and the growth plan began, I wrote to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and laid out a number of things we wanted to see in that review. We wanted to ensure that there were full public consultations, that for every piece of property being added to the greenbelt, the owner had an opportunity to comment and provide their input. Unfortunately, when the greenbelt was established, many people did not find out that their property was included until after the boundaries were announced. We asked that the review look not just at the amount of agricultural land in the greenbelt, but at the viability of the farms and the challenges that the farmers are facing. The best way to protect farmland in the greenbelt is to ensure that the farmers are able to earn a living farming it.

We asked that there be a proper appeals process to evaluate where mistakes were made. For instance, when the original boundaries were drawn in one town, there was environmentally sensitive land that was excluded, but serviced land surrounded by development was put into the greenbelt. There was another case where property was included in the greenbelt because planners thought there was a river located on it, only to find out later that the river was on a neighbouring property. In another case, there was a settlement area established around a village located in the escarpment which the community says is too environmentally sensitive to develop. They believe that it should be included in the greenbelt and no development should be allowed, but as it stands, there is no ability for them to appeal the designation.

In fact, one of the sections of this bill impacts both the greenbelt and the Oak Ridges moraine because it removes the right to appeal these boundaries in an official plan. It also removes the right for properties included in source water protection areas and properties restricted under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act or the growth plan.

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that the official plan is not the most effective way to appeal, but currently people don’t feel that they have an opportunity to appeal at all. As I said during my previous speech on this bill, the problem is that right now there isn’t a real appeal mechanism for these land use designations, so it appears that some property owners, in frustration, are appealing the designation in the official plan to the Ontario Municipal Board. That puts municipalities in a difficult position, being forced to defend provincial decisions that they didn’t make. As well, the Ontario Municipal Board is restricted in their decision because they must conform with or have regard to the provincial policy. We need a solution to this problem, but simply removing the appeal of the land designation in the official plan won’t resolve it. What we need is an appeal process that will deal with problems when an error has been found.

Originally this morning we were scheduled to be debating a government programming motion that would limit the debate on committee hearings for four government bills: An Act respecting Invasive Species, An Act to amend the Environmental Protection Act to require the cessation of coal use to generate electricity at generation facilities, An Act to protect and restore the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin and An Act to amend the Courts of Justice Act, the Libel and Slander Act and the Statutory Powers Procedure Act in order to protect expression on matters of public interest. Despite the fact that these bills have had limited debate, the government tabled a motion to time-allocate them and ram them through this Legislature. Despite the fact they still won’t be passed until the fall, the government is restricting public input by limiting the committee hearings and holding them all right here in Toronto.

Now, the government wants us to believe that their changes to the rules and community consultation in this bill will increase the opportunities for the public to participate. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. While we support giving municipalities the freedom to design consultations that work in their area, we believe there should be a minimum standard to ensure that the public gets an opportunity to participate.

This bill exempts municipalities from subsection (19.2), which states, “Every person who attends a public meeting required under clause (15)(d) shall be given an opportunity to make representations in respect of the current proposed plan.” This will no longer apply. Removing the requirement for this section weakens the public ability to participate in the planning of their own communities.

As I mentioned previously, I also have concerns about the way the government is proposing to create planning committees through this bill. It’s another case where they may have good intentions but will actually reduce public participation. The proposal is to create a new planning advisory committee that would have at least one member who is not a municipal employee or a councillor. The flaw with this proposal is that many municipalities, such as those in Oxford, currently have planning discussions and make planning decisions at open council meetings, which are regularly attended by the media and members of the public. Concerned citizens have the ability to see the agendas, attend the meetings and make presentations. The local media is there to report on those decisions.

This bill would move those discussions from the council chamber to the back room, where there is less public participation and less media scrutiny. Since the majority of the committee would still be members of council, they likely won’t feel the need to repeat the entire debate and discussion when the issue comes back to council for approval. The public will miss out on that discussion and that debate.

When I spoke to this legislation in April, I pointed out that it added a number of new reporting requirements. In fact, a presentation to the Ontario Small Urban Municipalities described these additional burdens as “traps” in the bill for municipalities. In their analysis of the bill, one municipality said, of the expanded requirements for the treasurer’s statement, “While this is typically covered through the budget worksheets or separate summary report, the proposed legislation now states that reporting by project is required. These requirements to report on a project basis will be yet another report to senior levels of government that has the potential to consume a lot of time and resources.”

They said that if the changes are adopted, as proposed, it would require them to update or change many of their current practices. They went on to say, “Specifically the proposed financial reporting requirements will involve additional new detailed reporting that will consume time and resources and provide little value-added services at the local level.”

Another municipality said that “changes proposed to both the Planning Act and Development Charges Act, particularly in the areas of increased reporting requirements, may strain staff resources.”

We support better planning and transparency, as do municipalities and organizations like the home builders’ association. I think that the move to increase reporting on the use of section 37 funds is positive, but at the same time, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing needs to be aware of the overall reporting burdens to municipalities.

When I first spoke to this bill six weeks ago, I challenged the minister to review the paperwork and reporting requirements for our municipalities. I asked him to find an unnecessary report or form to eliminate for each new report the government requires, such as those in this bill. Six weeks later, there has been no sign of progress on that challenge. Since the government programming motion is forcing legislation through without summer committee hearings, perhaps the minister can use part of his summer break to address the challenges and address the red tape and reporting burden faced by our municipalities.

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues we are struggling with in Ontario is affordable housing. As I said earlier, the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association has recently released their annual survey, which found that there are now 168,000 families on the waiting list for affordable housing in Ontario. I have put forward a private member’s bill, the Housing Services Corporation Accountability Act, which would stop some of the misuse of money intended for social housing. I again asked the government to work with me and move that bill forward in committee so we could ensure that all the public dollars intended to provide housing go to help those 168,000 families.

But the waiting list for housing is not the only sign that we’re having an affordability problem in Ontario. Affordability is an issue we hear about from seniors on fixed incomes who want to move into a more accessible home. Affordability is also an issue we hear about from young families who are forced to commute long distances each day in order to live in a location they can afford.

The Royal Bank of Canada’s report Housing Trends and Affordability, released in March, states, “Solid home price increases in Ontario were” a main factor contributing “to the slight erosion of housing affordability across Canada in” the fourth quarter of 2014.

Craig Wright, senior vice-president and chief economist for RBC, said, “We are watching Toronto pretty closely as it’s a market that time and time again shows deteriorating affordability—indicating that owning a home in the area, especially a single detached, is a stretch for many local homebuyers.”

This is another example why the land use planning review should have been completed before this legislation was introduced. Part of Places to Grow is an effort to encourage municipalities to intensify. We have also heard from a number of experts about the need to encourage more intensification around transit. But this bill does nothing to support those goals.

A recent study by Pembina found that “because there is a lack of affordable location-efficient homes, homebuyers often are forced to move into car-dependent suburbs.”

While American cities such as Washington, Seattle, New York and Denver are looking to policies to create more affordable housing around transit, this government is proposing policies that will have the opposite effect. This bill will increase development charges and make housing in Ontario less affordable. Development charges are the fees that builders pay to municipalities to fund infrastructure such as sewers, water and roads. They are needed for many municipalities to afford the infrastructure necessary for these new homes. But at the same time, we need to recognize the impact on the cost of housing.

As the member from Etobicoke–Lakeshore said when he was chair of Toronto’s planning and growth committee, “What many people assume is the developers pay. Well, the reality is purchasers pay.”

Development charges become part of the cost of a home and are passed on to people purchasing new homes or condos, or renting an apartment, and that cost is significant. In 2009, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. found that government-imposed charges, including development charges, represented up to 19% of the median price of a single-family new home. The Greater Toronto Home Builders’ Association reported that for a $440,000 family home, over $25,000 goes to development charges.

The Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario commissioned a report called Alternatives to Development Charges for Growth-Related Capital Costs. It found that development charges are now $30,000 to $50,000 per single-family home in high-growth municipalities surrounding Toronto. By comparison, it found that development fees in Calgary and Edmonton are less than $8,000 per unit.

This bill would increase development charges and therefore the cost of housing in a number of ways. First, it would remove the 10% discount on transit costs. It would allow development charges to be charged on planned future services instead of historical services. It would remove the list of items that are exempted from development charges from the act and allow the government to choose which to exempt. That means that new homeowners and businesses could now be paying development charges to pay for cultural or entertainment facilities, including museums, theatres and art galleries, or to fund a new city hall or a tourism facility such as a convention centre.

One of the items that was previously exempt was the provision of waste management services. The government has already indicated that under the new regulations, municipalities will now be allowed to have development charges cover the cost of that. In fact, there have already been municipal requests to expand it further and allow development charges on all of the previously exempt items, including cultural, tourism and entertainment facilities.

I understand why municipalities want the additional development charges. Many of them are struggling to make ends meet and provide the infrastructure and services their residents want. Part of the problem is a provincial government that is more focused on blaming others than taking responsibility for the challenges that municipalities face. This year, spending in the provincial budget increased by $2.4 billion, but the Ontario municipal partnership grants that municipalities depend on were being cut again.

Whenever questions are raised, the government tries to duck the issue by blaming previous governments, but after 12 years in office and huge increases in spending, the truth is this government could have changed funding to municipalities if they had wanted to. They could have changed responsibilities and programs. The system and challenges that exist today are the responsibility of this government and no one else.

It’s this government that in the budget proposed municipalities sell some of their assets to help pay for transit. It’s this government that is proposing to increase development charges and pass the cost on to new homeowners and businesses instead of helping municipalities find ways to make ends meet. And it’s this government that may propose further increases through their working group established to look at “more complex land use planning and development charges issues, and propose solutions.” Again, I have the concern that these are issues that the government should have researched and consulted on before introducing this legislation. And again, these are items that are just going to force the cost of housing to go up.

We cannot have a full conversation about the affordability of housing in Ontario without talking about the spiralling cost of hydro. The Ontario government is now proposing to sell off the majority of Hydro One. Once that asset is sold and the money is spent, it’s gone; 30, 40 or 50 years from now that transit will need to be refurbished and updated. The people will still only have 40% of Ontario Hydro and, based on this government’s plan, will still be stuck with the debt that’s presently there. That’s like selling part of the house to pay for the monthly gas bill—or, in Ontario, more likely selling it to pay the hydro bill.

Which raises the second problem with this proposal: The Premier already admitted that she can’t guarantee that the price of hydro won’t go up. Spiralling hydro costs are already a significant problem in Ontario for homeowners and businesses. Those increases, along with things like the increasing development fees proposed in this bill, are already convincing businesses to choose other jurisdictions and are already making homes unaffordable.

Mr. Speaker, one of the other concerns that was raised about this legislation was the changes to the rules around parkland. As you know, new developments are required to contribute a percentage of their land for parkland, or they can provide cash in lieu. If municipalities choose to take the money instead of the land, this bill would change the amount that they’re entitled to, from a rate equivalent to the value of one hectare for 300 dwelling units to a rate of one hectare for 500 units proposed. The rate for actual land given would remain at one hectare for 300 units. While the goal may be to encourage more donations of land for parks by increasing the value that the municipality receives, the reality is that already many municipalities take the land and sell it at a later date. This would just encourage more municipalities to do the same. The land they get may not be in the right place for a park, they may have already have enough parks or they may just decide that they need the money more.

In one of my communities, we ended up with a park the size of one lot in a subdivision right across the street from a large playground and ball field. The county had to maintain the lot, but it wasn’t used or needed because everyone went to the great park across the street. Eventually the county sold it and ended up with the money anyway.

While the goal of this change is good, the result is that we’re going to put municipalities in a position where they are going into the real estate business. Rather than simply getting the payment from the developer, municipalities will spend time dealing with real estate agents. This isn’t the best use of their time and it isn’t where they have the experience. As we have discovered too often when governments start taking on the functions of the private sector, it often results in inefficiencies and costs the taxpayers.

There are also a number of concerns about the freezes on appeals proposed by this bill. It’s another example of unintended consequences. This bill introduces a freeze on appeals following the adoption of a new official plan. This means that no rezoning would be allowed unless it is initiated by the municipality. I understand why the government would want to include this section, but I think we need to be cautious of the unintended effect of this change.

It will result in a small window during which businesses can actually appeal to make zoning changes. The reality is that the approval process of an official plan can take a long time. In fact, I recently received a resolution from the town of Halton Hills that raised concerns about the fact that it took four years to complete their official plan conformity amendments. Then there will be a two-year freeze on top of that. Once the applicant can initiate an appeal, it can take two years to get it completed. That means that a business applying for a change to the official plan to be allowed to build and create jobs can wait years for the ability to do so.

Minister, while it isn’t an official plan freeze, I think we all know from our experience in municipal government that no one wants to make changes to the official plan in the year or two before it comes up for review. Again, that leaves a small window for change.

Both municipalities and home builders raised concern about the proposed two-year moratorium on minor variance applications following an owner-initiated zoning bylaw. Home builders are concerned that this would leave property owners unable to make even minor adjustments and would actually result in more delays and appeals. One municipality said, “This proposed amendment is overly restrictive and limits the ability of local communities to deal with unique site-specific circumstances that may occur from time to time.”

I appreciated the opportunity to raise the concerns about Bill 73. I know I’m starting to get short on time, but before I finish I want to talk a little bit about the importance of debating this bill. I think it’s important to recognize the difference between regions in our province, the differences in municipalities and the difference in how land use planning will impact communities, people and organizations within it.

This bill attempts to achieve a balance, and it’s important that all members have the opportunity to talk about whether the government has achieved that balance for them and for their communities. I think we need to hear from the member from Niagara West–Glanbrook about the impact on tender fruit lands in his communities and the need for growth in order to have enough population to get the services they want. I think we need to hear from the member from Dufferin–Caledon about whether the bill achieves balance between growth at the south end of her riding and the protection of the escarpment. We need to hear from the member from Timiskaming–Cochrane about how this bill would impact northern Ontario.

A couple of months ago, when I met the mayor of Kenora, I pointed out his office is closer to Calgary than it is to Toronto. We can’t assume that the policies that work in Toronto or Ottawa or even Oxford will work for them. The only way for us to be assured that their community will be well served by this bill is for their member to speak to it and, if it passes second reading, for us to have full committee hearings so we can hear from NOMA, from FONOM, from ROMA and from AMO; so we can hear from the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and the Ontario Road Builders’ Association; so we can hear from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture; so we can hear directly from the mayors and councillors who will be impacted by this bill