The Ontario government says it will reverse controversial expansions it made to the urban boundaries of some municipalities as part of its plan to build more homes.
Housing Minister Paul Calandra said Monday he would soon introduce legislation that will wind back provincial changes to the “official plans” of the following municipalities and regional municipalities:
- City of Peterborough
- Halton Region
- Niagara Region
- Peel Region
- Waterloo Region
- York Region
- Wellington County
Calandra said he has been reviewing past decisions of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to ensure they were made in a “manner that maintains and reinforces public trust.”
He said “it is clear” the changes made to urban boundaries “failed to meet that test.” Calandra added there was “too much involvement from the minister’s office, too much involvement from individuals in the minister’s office” in those decisions.
WATCH | Calandra explains decision to roll back boundary changes:
Some municipalities, including Hamilton, have said the boundary expansions were not needed to build housing. Calandra said the legislation will roll back the plans, so that only those plans submitted by the municipalities themselves before provincial changes were imposed remain.
Municipalities have 45 days to request any revisions to their original submissions. Calandra said the province will cover costs incurred by municipalities on work done in relation to the boundary expansions.
Province to compensate Pickering, Grimsby
On Monday, Calandra also said the province will compensate two municipalities for costs they incurred while working on the now-reversed Greenbelt land removals in their communities.
Premier Doug Ford admitted last month that it was a mistake to remove 15 parcels from the protected Greenbelt for housing development, and his government has now started the process to return them.
But Pickering, Ont., which was home to the largest of the Greenbelt parcels, and Grimsby, Ont., say they spent a lot of money and staff time working on those plans, to the tune of $360,135 and $82,000 respectively.
They say those costs include outside legal and consulting contracts as well as indirect costs of the staff time spent on Greenbelt-related work.
Calandra says while he initially indicated he wouldn’t compensate them, he has changed his mind, adding that he will review the costs that Pickering and Grimsby are submitting.
Legislation introduced to return Greenbelt land
MPP Steve Clark was housing minister at the time the changes to municipalities’ urban boundaries were introduced. He resigned from that post in the wake of two damning reports about his involvement in removing 15 parcels of land from the Greenbelt for development of 50,000 homes.
Earlier this month, Calandra introduced legislation to return those lands to the Greenbelt while also insulating the government from any legal action from developers affected by the move. Calandra said Monday that the pending legislation to reverse boundary changes would similarly include provisions to protect the government from legal consequences.
“This really is a reset for me as a minister to work with my municipal partners so that we can remain focused on working together,” Calandra said.
The RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the Greenbelt land swaps.
Calandra also said he has nearly completed an ongoing review of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) approved under Clark’s tenure. MZOs effectively override local planning and bylaws, and Clark issued dozens of them during his time as minister. Ontario’s auditor general is currently investigating the ministry’s process for selecting and approving MZOs.
In a statement following the announcement, NDP Leader Marit Stiles said the province has “wasted a year trying to convince Ontarians that their nonsensical land use policies, tailor-made to benefit select land speculators, offers real solutions for everyday Ontarians.
“Minister Calandra’s latest flip flop makes it abundantly clear; we have only scratched the surface of the damage this government has done.”
Meanwhile, interim Liberal leader John Fraser was incredulous about Calandra’s comments that Clark’s office was too involved in the changes to municipalities’ urban boundaries.
“There is no way on God’s green Earth that the premier’s office didn’t know about these urban boundary changes, didn’t know about MZOs, didn’t know about the Greenbelt,” he said.
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