EDITORIAL- Ford’s Rogue Housing Regime: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Premier Doug Ford’s latest attack on Ontario’s farmland is an exercise in rhetoric.

Bill 97 is called “Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants.” That’s bad enough. The real evils, though, are in its accompanying proposal, the Provincial Planning Statement (PPS). Don’t be fooled by that bland exterior.

These initiatives come from the man who has spent the past month calling the Greenbelt, the arc of forests, farmlands, rivers, marshes, and lakes holding back the sprawl of the GTA, a “scam.”

It’s now “the so-called Greenbelt.”

Perhaps even more menacing than Ford’s continuing attack on Ontario’s farmland, though, is his attack on public consultation, local authority, and sustainable urban planning. The PPS is riddled with ways to over-ride municipal governments. It does away with requirements, for example, for comprehensive municipal reviews. A Ministerial Zoning Orders provision means the housing minister can simply re-do local zoning. It makes clear that municipal plans and zoning by-laws cannot be more restrictive than provincial ones.

The PPS also attacks the keywords of sustainable urban planning. Ontario’s Places to Grow Act, which has guided development across Southern Ontario since 2005, mandates density, intensification, and sustainability. It’s just one of the planning tools that will be replaced by the PPS.

The County’s current Official Plan, designed, after lengthy and arduous consultation, to protect prime agricultural land, allows none of the things that are allowed in the PPS. If passed, this is a planning rubric that hijacks local planning, planning by those who have studied their municipality, mapped its fields, and know it best.

The PPS jettisons the requirement to plan for growth within defined urban boundaries. Instead, it allows municipal councils to expand their boundaries at any time. In fact, it threatens the idea of a boundary altogether. Boundary? What boundary?

Sustainability means considering the environmental and agricultural impacts of any new development project, be it a road, an intersection, or a housing plan. Environmental assessments are a cornerstone in planning of any kind, and they play a crucial gatekeeping role. Density and intensification mean keeping major development within the boundaries of existing towns and cities, and not letting it sprawl all over the place.

The Ford government doesn’t like these words. When it comes to cities, Ford likes sprawl. And when it comes to the country, he likes another keyword, fragmentation. That is what happens to farmland when lots are severed willy-nilly and new houses are scattered across fields, without a plan in sight.

The PPS allows for the severing of rural lots up to three times, a provision that has rural communities like ours particularly aggrieved. Lot severing makes it harder to farm and to raise livestock. Minimum separation guidelines mean what was once grazing pasture is suddenly someone’s backyard. It’s also expensive. Small towns have to string out services along rural roads rather than in targeted settlement areas.

Affordability, however, is also not one of the keywords of the “more homes built faster” campaign. Houses built on large lots in beautiful rural areas are not affordable. Nor are they sustainable. Rampant development means land prices will rise. Developers will profit where farmers won’t. And that seems to be the plan.

-Karen Valiohra, Publisher