Conservation Without Authority: Bill 23
Updated: 14 hours ago
At the end of October, the Ontario government introduced Bill 23 (More Homes Built Faster Act) to build 1.5 million new homes in southern Ontario. The proposed Bill is activating widespread resistance from a newly formed coalition of environmentalists, labour unions, farmers, housing advocates, and more.
In a joint statement signed by more than 125 organizations and 100 people, the statement outlines how the Bill will not create more housing, but instead encourage urban sprawl and undermine environmental protections. Sr. Sue Wilson from the CSJ’s Office for Systemic Justice has also submitted written disapproval to the government about this Bill.
The Narwhal has done an in-depth explainer on the Greenbelt in an article called: Everything you need to know about the endangered species, waterways and farmland in southern Ontario’s Greenbelt.
Groups report that they’ve never seen an omnibus Bill that changes so much of the policy landscape as this proposal does. Bill 23 impacts:
the coordination of regional planning
the protection and integrity of the Greenbelt (removing 7,400 acres)
the amount, affordability, and locations of housing supply
the protection of water, habitat, wetlands, and species at risk
the powers of municipalities to set climate (carbon) and housing targets
the participation of the public for critical decision making
the availability of farm land for food security
the active and respectful consent of First Nations in Ontario
If you prefer watching over reading, Environmental Defence hosted this information session on Bill 23 called: Bait and Switch: Understanding Bill 23, The 'More Sprawl, Fewer Wetlands' Act.
In a 2018 election promise, the same Provincial government said it would not change land use protections within the Greenbelt (2 million interconnected acres of forests and farmland set up in 2005). Bill 23 wants to remove 7,400 acres from Greenbelt protections to build 50,000 homes.
The Narwhal has also done a compilation of several changes the Ontario government is planning that undermines environmental protections in an article called: All the Ontario environmental protections Doug Ford wants to overhaul to build more houses.
While the name of the Bill suggests that housing is its goal, Ontario’s Affordability Task Force concludes that land shortage is not a critical factor to increase housing availability and affordability. In fact, there is already 88,000 acres of land available for housing just in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and Hamilton areas alone.
The Toronto Star raises questions about the special developer interests playing out in in recent weeks. According to the Toronto Star:
Developers owning Greenbelt land now set to be developed appear to have given significant sums to Ford’s Progressive Conservative party, donation records show. Lobbying records reveal connections between the party and five of the landowners who will benefit most from the proposed changes.
The timing is raising questions about whether the landowners knew the lands would soon become developable and profitable — or if they simply took a gamble and won.
If approved, this Bill will repeal at least 36 regulations that give Conservation Authorities watershed and habit oversight on development projects. As a Blue Community, it’s important to understand a bit more about Conservation Authorities so we can advocate on their behalf.
There are 36 Conservation Authorities in Ontario to help manage water levels, water quality, and habitat. They also offer public access to and education about watersheds. Unique to Ontario, these non-profit organizations work with all levels of government to give expert advice and special permits within their boundaries. Unlike election ridings or municipal borders, Conservation Authorities align their accountability with the contours of the watershed, rather than contrived political borders.
Learn about the Conservation Authority managing your watershed and let them introduce you to the issues and opportunities of your source waters. As Bill 23 takes shape, let your provincial representative know your informed opinion about some or all of the proposed changes.
When it comes to Conservation Authorities, Bill 23 wants to:
defund their capacity by limiting fee revenues
transfer their decision making powers to municipalities (who lack matching expertise and capacity)
limit their mandate by excluding recreational and biodiversity needs (including species at risk) from decision making
sell off and destroy protected wetlands and woodlands if developers ‘offset’ these areas by creating natural spaces elsewhere or pay a fee for this destruction.
In the rush to build more housing we can’t forget our larger and common home. Rather than just building homes, we need policies that build communities for all incomes and communities that appreciate and even contribute to the vitality of the watersheds we are an integral part of.
There are many groups asking you to add your name to a growing chorus of dissent. Contacting your MPP directly might have more weight, but here are a few groups doing advocacy:
The Ontario government passed Bill 23 on November 28th.
What do you think?
Is this a 'bait and switch' Bill that uses the housing crisis to undermine ecological protections, food security, and democratic oversight?
Can this Bill effectively unite various groups under a common agenda of affordable housing and a protected environment?
What efforts and examples do you see that are balancing new housing (and communities) with watershed vitality?
Leave your comments below.