Today, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, the Ontario government passed its controversial Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, which the government says will spur housing development. However, critics claim it will leave municipalities short billions of dollars, increase property taxes, and reduce the role of conservation authorities, all while lining the pockets of large developers.
Local critics of Bill 23 held a rally at Kingston City Hall on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, bringing together environmentalists, housing advocates, and democracy defenders who claim in a news release, “Bill 23 will destroy Ontario’s natural spaces,… result in building more urban sprawl, and… slash development charges that are so important to municipal finances.”
According to Kingston City Councillor Gregory Ridge, “Bill 23 is a devastating piece of legislation. The damage it imposes on the abilities of conservation authorities to protect our designated wetlands is an attack on the environment. With our climate crisis, this bill moves us in exactly the wrong direction.”
“Bill 23 also deeply affects the ability of a municipality to recover costs associated with its intended growth,” Ridge continued. “By legislating dramatic changes to the collection of development charges, the province is downloading additional costs onto municipalities. Municipalities have limited means of recovering costs and generating revenues. If a source is removed and a cost is imposed by the province, this diminishes the ability of a municipality to provide essential services.”
The protesters made it their mission on Sunday to ask why the City of Kingston had not added its voice to the conservation authorities and neighbouring municipalities in Eastern Ontario who have already opposed Bill 23 in a formal letter addressed to Premier Doug Ford; Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; and David Piccini, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
In an interview Monday, just before the controversial bill passed, Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson seemed to confirm the prediction of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) that Bill 23 would be pushed quickly through the legislature, making it likely to pass before many municipal councils have been sworn in and before the AMO Board could prepare a proper response.
Paterson affirmed, “I was approached to sign the letter. I had no concerns about the content of the letter, but I did have some concerns about the timing… The deadline to sign the letter was before the new Council took office, and so my interpretation of ‘the ask’ was to sign on behalf of Council, and I’m cautious [about doing] that.”
Paterson said he did not want to presume to act on Council’s behalf without first speaking to them. “So that was why I didn’t sign. I know there were other municipalities that did not sign, as well. And I have a feeling it probably had to do with that same reason… [The new Kingston City Council] was only installed… last week, which was after the deadline.”
However, Paterson said, he did sign a joint letter that was put together by the “big city mayors” in Ontario, “voicing a number of concerns about Bill 23.”
Asked what his personal concerns are surrounding the bill, Paterson responded that there will be “some real financial impacts in pulling back charges that the City can collect for development,” and that it is his position that “growth should pay for growth… When there is growth in our community, the development charges from that growth help to pay for all the infrastructure required for a growing community… Existing taxpayers [shouldn’t] have to shoulder that burden. That, I think, is a really important principle.”
Paterson continued, “There is definitely concern about what sort of financial gap that will mean. The position that I’m hearing from other mayors is that if development charges are reduced, then the province needs to come to the table to provide the infrastructure funding that we would be missing out on… That’s my position [and] the position of municipalities and mayors across the province.”
The reduced power and role of conservation authorities and the limited ability to comment on development applications are also areas of concern, Paterson said. “I am very supportive of a balanced approach… Yes, we need more housing and we need more development, but it’s got to be done in the right way and in the right locations. I think our conservation authority plays a really important role, and I certainly support them in that.”
It should be noted that the local conservation authority, Cataraqui Conservation, has publicly opposed the effects of Bill 23, and is one of 10 Ontario conservation authorities to have sent a joint letter to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Conservation expressing opposition.
For his part, Paterson also spoke to what he feels can and will happen moving forward.
“City staff are going to be bringing forward a report to Council… next Tuesday, [Dec. 6, 2022]. It will detail a number of the impacts of Bill 23, so lots of information for Council and the community. There will also be a Council motion, I think, expressing Council’s concerns with a number of those different elements as well… a chance for Council as a whole to voice its concerns. That will be a really important debate and discussion,” he said.
Asked if he had any idea of what the loss of development charges might be for the City of Kingston, Paterson said the staff report to Council, which should be available by Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, “will probably have that information. But [I’m not] comfortable throwing out that dollar figure yet. What I will say is that it will be significant… It will be a big [financial] hit.”
He concluded, “I personally do not want to see that burden borne by property taxpayers. So I think if those development charges are reduced, then I would look to the province to… provide the additional infrastructure funding required, so that we can build out our communities and provide the services people need.”
With files from Cris Vilela.