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Feds stand firm in Ontario housing battle: ‘They’re not going to receive this money’

The Ford government is enlisting the help of municipalities across the province in an effort to convince the Trudeau government that Ontario should still be eligible for billions in housing-related funding despite the premier’s stance against fourplexes.

In early April, the federal government announced a conditional $5 billion housing infrastructure fund that would only be distributed to provinces that implement a range of measures including requiring municipalities to adopt four units as-of-right policies and implement a three-year freeze on increasing development charges.

If a province doesn’t agree to the federal government’s conditions by Jan. 1, 2025, the Prime Minister’s Office said the funding would be transferred to municipalities instead.

Ontario’s eligibility for the funding is in serious doubt as a result of Premier Doug Ford’s staunch opposition to fourplexes and recent legislation that restores municipalities’ ability to levy increased development charges upfront.

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The premier has repeatedly railed against allowing four units as of right to be built in cities across Ontario, predicting terrible backlash from local residents.

Behind the scenes, however, the Ontario government is hoping to strike a unique deal with the federal government similar to child care and health care funding arrangements that were tailor-made for the province’s needs.

On Monday, Housing Minister Paul Calandra told Global News he’s working on a “team Ontario” approach and is drafting letters to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Big City Mayors caucus and each individual mayor in the province.

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Calandra said he is looking for unanimity on how municipalities feel about the policies to allow the province to present a single funding request to the federal government.

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“Let’s present a team Ontario offer back to the (federal government) as opposed to us negotiating on behalf of 444 municipalities, we’ll do that together,” Calandra said.

But even before the effort begins in earnest, both the Prime Minister and federal Housing Minister seem to be closing the door on an Ontario-specific arrangement.

“That money is going to flow,” Trudeau said at a housing-related announcement in Woodbridge, Ont., on Friday. “The only question Ontario has to ask is whether Ontario wants the money to flow through the province to municipalities or whether it flows directly to municipalities.”

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When Global News asked Trudeau whether the deal was non-negotiable, the Prime Minister said he expects provinces to “get on board fully.”

Housing Minister Sean Fraser also poured cold water on the province’s hopes of cutting a unique deal.

“If somebody wants to pick up the phone and give me a call, I’m going to answer it, but they better have a very good reason why they have a plan that’s going to allow us to do more and not to do less,” Fraser told Global News.

As part of his pitch, Calandra plans to point out that a large number of Ontario’s towns and cities already have rules that allow four units as of right. The minister hopes the fact much of the province has signed up to the policy without Queen’s Park will mean he doesn’t have to impose the rule across the whole of Ontario.

Data compiled by Global News shows that 21 of Ontario’s major municipalities allow fourplexes to be built without prior approvals. The 21 municipalities have a combined population of 7.7 million people, according to the 2021 Census, out of a provincial population of more than 16 million.

Many of those municipalities passed motions to allow fourplexes after being offered money from Ottawa to do so.

“We’re not discouraging anyone from doing that,” Calandra said. “There is no law against four units as of right.”

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“We believe that municipalities are best positioned to decide what is built in their communities and what their communities can handle.”

Fraser said his office is looking for blanket fourplex policies from premiers and isn’t willing to accept anything less.

“If provinces say ‘trust us, you should give us the money’ but we’re going to increase taxes and restrict building through zoning practices, they’re not going to receive this money.”

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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