More Darkness in Ontario’s Democracy

In Canada, after an election first ministers write mandate letters to their cabinet colleagues, laying out deliverables their departments should achieve. Some governments make them public (Trudeau, McGuinty and Wynne in Ontario), but others don’t (Harper, Ford). A newly-elected government traditionally outlines its program in its platform and speech from the throne; mandate letters may be more specific. Even if they are not made public, they can provide direction to the bureaucracy. If made public, they can be used to hold the government accountable.

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Garbage truck

Loud noises keeping you up at night?

The noise bylaw amendments, which will be discussed at the Economic and Community Development Committee next week, come after a pandemic-delayed review mandated by the 2019 bylaw.

Concerts with the volume turned lower. A limit on how loud a car can be. A new way to complain about noisy waste collectors.

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Leaside Business Park

Employment area policy proposals

The amendment to the provincial definition of “area of employment” narrows the scope of uses from what is currently permitted in areas of employment. In particular, it expressly excludes from the definition institutional uses and commercial uses, including retail and office uses that are not associated with manufacturing, warehousing, and research and development in connection with manufacturing.

Up to now the Leaside and other Business Parks has been protected though Official Plan policies and zoning bylaws, and Ontario Municipal Board decisions that have respected the Employment Lands boundaries and policies therein. However, under Bill 97, Municipal Comprehensive Reviews would no longer be required, creating open season on employment area conversions, creating uncertainty for employers, and reducing future opportunities for Ontario businesses to grow within their markets.

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aerial view of planned community

FoNTRA opposes proposed changes to Ontario’s land use planning framework

On April 6, 2023, Ontario announced new components of its Housing Supply Action Plan, which seeks to encourage the construction of 1.5 million homes by 2031. Two key elements of the announcement are the introduction of Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023, which is currently at second reading stage in the Ontario Legislature, and the release of a draft Provincial Planning Statement, 2023 (the “Statement”), which was out for public comment until August 4, 2023.

FoNTRA’s report concludes that the proposed Provincial Planning Statement (PPS) and the simultaneous repeal of the Growth Plan for the Golden Horseshoe should not proceed since these initiatives are not only harmful but also entirely unnecessary. FoNTRA, respectfully, urges the government to withdraw the proposed Provincial Planning Statement and to maintain the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

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Residential street with mixed housing

2023 Housing Action Plan lacks a staff report and Multi-Tenant Housing report raises many new concerns

FoNTRA says that the 2023 Housing Action Plan proposal lacks a staff report justifying the recommendations, and the Multi-Tenant Housing report raised many concerns when previously considered, which require to be further addressed, such as how will the new regulatory framework be enforced?

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Toronto City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square

Opposition to strong mayor legislation grows

Opposition to Ontario Bill 39, Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022, giving the Toronto’s John Tory “strong mayor” powers continues to grow. FoNTRA wrote a letter to Mayor John Tory on November 23, 2022 expressing strong objections to what is widely seen as an anti-democratic move by the provincial government. It was followed by another letter on November 28, urging the mayor to call an emergency session of council to discuss the matter; he refused, despite calls from many of his own councillors to do so. On December 6, fifteen of the 25 city councillors sent a joint letter to Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, urging a halt to the legislation.

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Greenbelt river valley

FoNTRA’s objections to proposed Greenbelt changes

The Federation of North Toronto Residents Associations, representing over 30 residents associations in Toronto, submits the following objections on proposed changes to the Greenbelt Plan that would remove or re-designate 15 parcels of land, and add lands in the Paris Galt Moraine area.

Our submission is based on the following points.

1. There is no proven need for this additional land for development.

The government’s Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force stated that: “a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem. Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts.”

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Ontario legislature

FoNTRA asks Mayor Tory to repudiate the special legislative provisions in Bill 39

FoNTRA expresses strong opposition to Bill 39, and concern about recent revelations about the involvement of the Mayor in originating its passage.

Bill 39 would enable the Mayor of Toronto to get a bylaw passed by Council with only one third of the councillors voting in support. As such, only eight of the 25 councillors would need to be onside to have his way, at least on measures that line up with the aims of the provincial government.

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FoNTRA identifies the elements of Bill 23 that are regressive and identify flawed assumptions behind the legislation

FoNTRA states that Bill 23 does many regressive things, but one of the items of most concern is to prohibit any third party (i.e., citizen/resident or community association) appeals of development applications to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). The Bill also proposes increased powers of the OLT to order costs against the party who loses at a hearing, which is intended to inflict substantial costs on parties to chill their participation. These measures are fundamentally undemocratic, vindictive, and represent an unacceptable diminution of citizens’ rights.

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Ontario Legislature

FoNTRA open letter opposing Bill 23

We believe that the foundation of Bill 23 is flawed and if approved it will result in significant adverse impacts on our communities without any guarantees that the needed housing will be built.

The legislation focuses solely on supply (i.e., construction of new houses), not demand. For example,  the federal and provincial governments could reduce the demand for housing in the overheated GTA by influencing the location of jobs.  And conspicuously, the Bill avoids dealing with affordability, again focusing only on production of new housing. The report assumes that affordability is simply a function of supply, i.e. the idea that more supply will bring down the prices, which is unproven.  The experience is that public sector financial and regulatory intervention (ie. subsidy, inclusive zoning) is required in order to achieve affordable housing.

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Queen's Park at night by David Urbonas

Bill 23: Consultation schedule is set

Fewer meetings held more quickly

While residents are struggling to understand the complexity of Bill 23, the province is moving quickly to fix wheels to their wagon.

All of this haste flies in the face of the best practices of consultation that provide a prescription of fairness required of all public bodies. See the details of these best practices (aka The Gunning Principles) below.

The consultation schedule for Bill 23 was released on October 31st.

More homes built faster, 2022 Act

The Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy will meet to consider Bill 23, An Act to amend various statutes, to revoke various regulations and to enact the Supporting Growth and Housing in York and Durham Regions Act, 2022.

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Housing development site - Markham, Ontario

Bill 23: Omnibus bill means that suddenly everything is at risk

Ford and his housing minister previewed the legislation in a Toronto Region Board of Trade event earlier on Tuesday. Ford said in his speech …

“Everyone’s dream is to have a little white picket fence. You know, when they put the key in the door, they know they’re building equity into it, they can do the little tweaks to their house and increase the value of it. That’s our goal.”

It is not yet clear how the proposed legislation will achieve this goal.

The legislation introduces a new concept definition called ‘attainable housing’ that seems to look very much like the old ‘market-based housing.’ This is precisely the outcome that the building industry is hoping for. Toronto has more than 230 cranes in-the-air providing mostly market-based housing … so we can expect more cranes on the horizon.

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Ontario Legislature

How to contact your Toronto MPP

Recent proposed changes to housing policy have caused many city residents to reach out to their local provincial representative. A list of these representatives is available on the province of Ontario website.

The list provided above includes all the MPPs in the province and includes two addresses for each member. One address is the office in the legislative building and the other address is the constituency office.

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Toronto City Hall viewed from south showing towers and council chamber and public square

Do we need a strong Mayor or a City with increased powers?

Following a “leak”, Premier Doug Ford recently confirmed that the Mayors of the City of Toronto and the City of Ottawa would be given “strong mayor” powers by his newly re-elected government. This announcement, coming “out of the blue” (there was no mention of this as a promise during the Premier’s recent election campaign) is little more than an idea until the necessary legislation is introduced into the Legislature. Until then we don’t know the details of the “strong mayor” proposal. 

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FoNTRA provides comments on Multi-Tenant Housing Report in areas of Enforcement, Budget and Evaluation

The City proposed a new Regulatory Framework for Multi-Tenant Houses across Toronto in 2021. The current status report indicates that the regulatory framework will not be completed prior to 2023, given the number and complexity of the directions required by City Council in October, 2021; however some initial planning work has been completed.

We have reviewed the June 16, 2022 Status Report in the context of the earlier reports (June 2021, and October, 2021) and FoNTRA submissions. FoNTRA expressed qualified support both times. Referring back to FoNTRA’s concerns detailed in our June 25, 2021 letter and supported by our document “Questions regarding implementation of Multi-Tenant Housing Report”, our updated comments on some areas previously identified.

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FoNTRA expresses concern about the planning rationale for amending the Official Plan to permit neighbourhood retail stores

FoNTRA does not object in principle to the proposed OPA; however, we are skeptical about its feasibility and practicality. In a retail universe that satisfies consumers’ desires for both shopping convenience (via on-line and next day (or less) delivery), and bulk shopping at megastores like COSTCO, it is questionable whether there is any longer a desire and consequently an adequate market for new local neighbourhoods services, or whether this is a planners’ dream throwback to a simpler time.

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View of downtown Toronto west, towards Toronto Islands

It’s time to free Toronto from the Ontario Land Tribunal

This is to express our qualified support for the Motion:

  • that City Council request the Province of Ontario to dissolve the Ontario Land Tribunal and replace it with a true appeals body that only grants hearings based on an error in law or procedure.

We set our qualifications below.

The Ontario Land Tribunal is an unelected, unaccountable quasi-judicial body that has the “final say” over planning matters in Toronto and across Ontario.

The current Provincial government has (1) amalgamated the former five separate tribunals into one – the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) and (2) given it “final say” powers, reversing the advisory (to municipalities) powers given to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) by the previous government. And procedural changes have reduced the involvement of participants in the hearings.

As a result it appears that the OLT is more politicized, more distant from the concerns of regular people, and less knowledgeable of land use planning than ever.

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woman looking at condos for sale sign

Review of Provincial Housing Affordability Task Force

We support the proposed City of Toronto response to the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force.  We agree that there is a critical housing problem in Toronto. The affordability problem is worldwide, especially in rapidly growing cities. Too many low-income households cannot afford the rents they pay. And too many new middle-income families are priced out of the market for owner-occupied housing.

Unfortunately, the recommendations of the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force will do little to reduce the cost of housing, especially for low-income families. It is all very well to say that housing prices will decline if more housing is built, but the economics of housing are not responsive to rhetoric.

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Housing - Toronto

FoNTRA comments on Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force Report

Land use planning is intended to serve the public interest in achieving complete communities and requires balancing of competing interests, aiming to serve the best interests for both present and future residents. Housing is for most homeowners not just their home but also their biggest asset, and governments have a responsibility in City land use planning and development to protect the interests of existing residents as well as to provide for the need for more housing.

Finding the right balance is not easy. And the role of municipal government is important, as each municipality has different needs and priorities. The Task Force’s recommended one size fits all throughout the province” proposals simply do not work. The issues in small towns such as Creemore or Owen Sound are not the same as the issues in midtown Toronto.

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