In yet another major reversal, the Government of Ontario announced on Monday that it will be reversing controversial planned expansions to the urban boundaries of several municipalities — part of its effort to build more homes.
In a release, Housing Minister Paul Calandra said he would soon introduce legislation that would rollback changes to the "official plans" of Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, York, and Wellington County. These changes permitted expanded urban boundaries, allowing for more housing development in areas where that was previously not the case.
"Since becoming Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, I have made it a priority to review past decisions, including minister’s zoning orders and official plans, to ensure that they support our goal of building at least 1.5 million homes in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust," Calandra said. "In reviewing how decisions were made regarding official plans, it is now clear that they failed to meet this test."
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Calandra said there "was just a little bit too much involvement from individuals within the previous Minister's office on the official plans in these areas."
The wind-back will not apply to cases where construction has already begun "or where doing so would contravene existing provincial legislation and regulation," he added. Impacted municipalities will be asked to submit updates to ministry staff within 45 days outlining information on projects that are already underway.
Monday's announcement comes just over a week after Acting Auditor General Nick Stavropoulos confirmed his office is looking into the provincial government's use of Minister's Zoning Orders to override municipal approval processes and facilitate developments.
It also followed pushback from the municipalities themselves who criticized the move. Multiple mayors and municipal staff asserted that the boundary changes were not necessary to reach the Province's housing goals. Some even warned of the negative environmental impacts that the altered boundaries could have.
The NDP previously requested that the Auditor General investigate the Province's decision to change urban boundaries.
Following Monday's reversal, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles lambasted the provincial government, saying "Minister Calandra’s latest flip flop makes it abundantly clear; we have only scratched the surface of the damage this government has done."
"There is a deeply concerning culture of corruption and preferential treatment embedded in how this government makes public policy, and Ontarians deserve more answers," Stiles continued.
This is now the second major piece of legislation that Calandra has rolled back since stepping into the housing portfolio, which he assumed after Steve Clark's resignation in the wake of the Greenbelt land swap scandal.
In early October, Calandra introduced legislation that would return all previously removed lands to the Greenbelt. This came after weeks of backlash following two scathing reports, numerous government resignations, and falling poll numbers. Investigations by both the Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner found that a biased, opaque process took place when selecting which lands would be removed from the Greenbelt and opened up for development, displaying favouritism towards certain developers.
The RCMP confirmed earlier this month that they are conducting a criminal investigation into the decision to remove lands from the Greenbelt.