If nothing else, Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 108 will separate the good guys from the bad. The so-called More Homes, More Choices Act, which significantly reduces demands cities can make of developers, will reveal builders who do the right thing regardless and those content to do no more than the law dictates.
The Progressive Conservative government argues that changes to development fees, Section 37 and Section 42 requirements and planning review procedures will promote the construction of affordable housing. If only. Sadly, there is no evidence to bolster that claim. More likely, the bill was designed to please an industry that has long supported Ford’s pro-business stance.
But as is so often the case, even if the act does reduce development costs, the long-term impact won’t help Ontario’s cities, most notably Toronto. Cutting park, green space, design and heritage requirements, as well as city fees, will inevitably lower the quality of the built environment. That, in turn, will make Toronto less desirable and compromise one of its most celebrated competitive edges – its liveability. The unintended consequence of Bill 108 could well be to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
Already, Toronto is failing to meet the demands made of it. Green space is at a premium, especially in new residential neighbourhoods. And at this point, not even Mayor John Tory can be holding his breath in anticipation of Rail Deck Park. And as for the scandalous state of transit, Ford has made a bad situation even worse. This is a man who has even managed to screw up the beer and booze file.
“After Bill 108, it will be entirely voluntary to put land aside for public space,” says Park People manager of policy and planning, Jake Tobin Garrett. “If it goes into effect, the city won’t be able to provide parks. There will be a clear difference between projects built before and after Bill 108.”
A set of drawings prepared by the city clearly illustrates the impact the act would have on the large-scale redevelopment at 770 Lawrence St. W. They show how the 2.2-acre park secured under the current system would become a .4-acre open space about one-third the size of a football field. That’s a reduction of 82 percent in size or a drop from 3.8 square metres per resident to just .5 square metres.
To make matters worse, new rules would require the city to spend Section 37 funds and Development Charges, now called a Community Benefit Charge, within a year. That will make it difficult if not impossible to save them for high-ticket projects such as, say, Rail Deck Park.
So much for “The City in a Park.”
Ontario’s chief magistrates are also dismayed by what they see. The Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) chair, Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie, made the group’s feelings clear in a statement released May 24: “Ontario’s big-city mayors are concerned about the proposed changes in Bill 108, which could put at risk our cities’ finances and ability to provide parkland, community facilities, and adequate public engagement to inform the planning of neighbourhoods,” he declared. “Changes to Development Charges, which are paid by developers to offset the cost of growth, could put already-approved parks and community centres in jeopardy. A return to the old OMB rules for planning appeals means that local planning matters will once again be taken out of the hands of municipal Councils.”
More than anything, perhaps, Bill 108 speaks of an attitude to cities that fails completely to grasp their importance to Canadian society. Indeed, there’s a strong argument that cities play a much larger role in wealth creation than does the province. At a time when the future looks more urban than it has since World War II, Doug Ford’s desire to disempower cities and bully them into submission is not just counter-productive but self-destructive. His actions will leave cities weaker and less able to cope with the huge pressures they face. And let’s not forget that regardless of what the Toronto-haters like to believe, as it goes so goes Ontario. Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face might seem good politics at Queen’s Park, but whether we live in Mississauga or Moosonee, sooner or later we will all have to pay the price.
That might finally be sinking in: Ford’s approval ratings have dropped to 22.4 per cent, lower than his predecessor, Kathleen Wynne, who had less support before the provincial election almost exactly a year ago. Incidentally, the Liberals are in the lead at 39.9 per cent.
For developers Bill 108 is a reminder of the old expression to be careful what you wish for.