The ‘Newsmaker of the Year’ is Part 3 in an annual week-long STOREYS editorial series. Check back tomorrow to find out what our ‘2022 Design Trend of the Year’ is.

From controversial housing plans to strong mayor powers to billions of dollars in new highway investments, Premier Doug Ford earned his fair share of development-related headlines this year, making him STOREYS' 2022 Real Estate Newsmaker of The Year.

Ford began 2022 with a provincial election on the horizon and a worsening housing crisis, which categorically shaped both his legislative agenda and campaign platform this year. The Premier and his ministers seemingly rolled out bill after bill, and announcement after announcement, promising big changes for the province that centred around one major theme: development.

Ford's plans rocked this year's headlines while earning him further support from many in the development and real estate sector, and extensive backlash from others. And there's no better example of that than one of his first housing-related moves of the year: Bill 109. In March, as the housing market peaked and the Bank of Canada kicked off what would become an extremely aggressive interest rate hike schedule, the Ford government introduced the More Homes For Everyone Act. The legislation underscored what would become the government's primary line of attack for bringing down housing prices: building more homes.

“Ontario is the best place to live, start a business and raise a family, but we can only build on our success if all hardworking Ontarians and their families are able to find the home they need and want,” Ford said at the time. “As Ontario’s population and our economy continue to grow, building more homes is another way that we’re keeping costs down for families across the province.”

The bill, while proposing a variety of potential measures to boost supply, stirred up controversy over the shots it took at municipal processes -- something that would continue throughout the rest of the year. It introduced harsh penalties for municipalities that do not drastically cut their processing times for zoning and development applications, requiring them to refund either a portion or the entirety of the application fee.

While this was music to the ears of developers frustrated with lengthy approval times -- Residential Construction Council of Ontario President Richard Lyall called the bill "the type of forward-thinking action that is needed to help increase the supply of housing in Ontario" -- Ford, unsurprisingly, received blowback from municipal officials lambasting the legislation both in council meetings and in the media. Some opponents of the bill argued that the application fees pay for City resources to process those applications and that having to refund even a portion of these fees would, in turn, exacerbate the very thing the Province says it is trying to fix. Others said that it was the province's own regulations that resulted in such lengthy processes.

In October, with a majority election win the the rearview mirror, Ford's government introduced its second major piece of housing legislation, Bill 23. Dubbed the More Homes Built Faster Act, the bill looked to slash the proverbial red tape by dropping steps in the approval process, limiting who can appeal a development, and gutting inclusionary zoning requirements. The bill also provide monetary relief to builders in the form of cuts to development charges -- something mayors across Ontario took issue with.

They warned of lost revenue that will necessitate increases in property taxes. Toronto Mayor John Tory previously warned of a potential loss of $2B for his city over the next decade because of Bill 23, while Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said that the average property tax could increase by 5 or 10%, or $300 to $600 annually, to compensate for a $885M loss in revenue. Ford did not take well to the criticism from Ontario mayors, saying earlier this month that they need to “get on board” and “stop the whining.”

Environmental advocates warned of the disastrous effects it could have, particularly the plan to remove 7,400 acres of land from Ontario's protected Greenbelt. Parks Canada even submitted a letter to the provincial government warning of the "irreversible harm" that developing Greenbelt land could cause, the Toronto Starreported. Housing advocates took issue with the affordability caps placed on inclusionary zoning, and municipal officials sounded the alarm on lost revenue that would come with waiving development charges. Ford, however, said while speaking to reporters on Dec. 1 that he doesn't believe "at all" that the bill will hurt municipal finances.

Where Ford did earn praise, once again, was from the development industry who lauded Bill 23 as a progressive step that will help to get shovels in the ground faster. And he seemingly was able to bring parties on all sides together over one aspect of the bill: allowing three units as of right on every lot in the province.

"This is one of the positive pieces of the legislation,” Spokesperson for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario Genrys Goodchild told STOREYS in October. “We support measures that encourage gentle density to create a greater array of rental housing."

It's hard to say which of Ford's housing moves earned him the most news coverage this year -- even the selling of his own house garnered multiple headlines -- but his implementation of the so-called strong mayor powers is easily a top contender. This year the Ford government introduced not one, but two pieces of legislation on strong mayor powers. The first, brought forward in August and passed in September, gives mayors in Toronto and Ottawa the authority to veto council decisions, prepare the budget, and appoint and remove high-ranking staff members such as the city manager. The intention, the province has said, is to cut red tape and allow developments to be approved more quickly.

Similar powers are used in other major cities like New York and San Francisco, but in Ontario, the reception wasn't overwhelmingly warm. While there was certainly staunch support from some, including from Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has said the powers could help him to finally legalize rooming houses city-wide, others feared it overrules the democratic process, giving too much power to one person. But the naysayers appeared to have little effect on Ford because in November, the premier announced his intention to expand the strong mayor powers in a way that is categorically undemocratic.

His proposed legislation offered additional powers that would enable mayors to propose municipal by-laws that could be passed through council without a majority vote. Instead, these by-laws would only need more than one-third of council members to vote in favour. These expanded powers, Ford said, are "so that when you get elected as mayor, it means something." The legislation also brought forward the province's intention to spread the powers to Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, and York to help ramp up development there.

Under Ford, the provincial government spent the year with its own hand deep in the development pot as well. From taking major steps to overhaul Ontario Place into a new destination park-spa-event space combo, to announcing plans for a 40,000-unit, transit-oriented community near Highway 407 and Yonge Street, the Ford government is certainly trying to live up to its promise to make Ontario "a place to grow."

But Ford has long been accused of having too vested of an interest in the development industry, with critics suggesting he often puts the interests of his developer friends first. A CBC investigation that broke last month added more fuel to their claims when it was revealed that the De Gasperis family -- founder of Tacc Developments and major donors to the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario -- bought up millions of dollars worth of land in the area of Greenbelt that Ford is now looking to remove from protection to get more homes built. Although 24 of the 28 lots the family owns were bought before the creation of the Greenbelt in 2005, two were bought as recently as 2020.

But of course you can’t talk about the province's development agenda without also talking about transit, and Ford has been making waves -- often tumultuous ones -- in this sector too. The government spent the year progressing on much-needed public transit expansions, from beginning preliminary work on the new Ontario Line subway to pledging $730 million to establish all-day 15-minute GO train service to Bowmanville and build four new GO train stations east of Oshawa. But the one means of transportation that Ford has been irrefutably tied to this year above all else is highways.

When the government released its budget in April, featuring a telling cover image of a highway, it included an additional $4 billion for highway planning and construction, bringing the total spend planned for the next 10 years to $25.1 billion. The funds were earmarked for the QEW Garden City Skyway rehabilitation project, the construction of two bridges over the Grand River, the new Highway 7 construction, the widening of Highway 17, and a reconstruction of Highway 101 through Timmins.

But when it came time for the election, Ford campaigned on bringing to fruition two major highway investments that his government had previously announced: Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. Ford promised relief from gridlock with Highway 413, a 60-km freeway from Highway 400 in Vaughan to the intersection of Highways 407 and 401 at the Brampton/Mississauga border. Meanwhile, the Liberals, NDP, and Green Party all pledged to cancel the project if elected.

The new highway, the Ontario government has said, would save someone travelling the full length of the route 30 minutes compared to the time it would take via Highways 401 and 400. But that number has been disputed. In fact, a Ministry of Transportation analysis obtained by The Toronto Star found that by 2041, commuters using the already-existing Highway 400, 401, and 407 could cross the GTA 16 minutes faster than if using Highway 413 alone.

Environmental advocates and scientific researchers alike have taken aim at Ford's Highway 413 plan, lamenting the damage its construction could cause to wetlands and farmlands. The highway is currently in the second stage of environmental assessment, according to the project's website.

The Bradford Bypass -- a new four-lane highway that will connect Highway 400 and Highway 404 in Simcoe County and York Region -- broke ground in early November, with Ford saying during an announcement "there is no time to waste in getting this built." But just a few weeks later, a report from Ontario's auditor general said that the Ford government ignored its own experts who identified Highway 413, the Bradford Bypass, and six other highways as low-priority.

No matter your feelings towards the Premier, it's safe to say that Ford's political moves dominated the real estate news cycle in 2022. Being the premier of the country's most populous province, his actions are heard not just in Ontario, but across the country as well. And with the year now wrapping up and Ford continuing to forge ahead with his plans despite widely varying responses, there's no doubt that he'll still be making headlines through 2023 and beyond.

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