Internal document shows Ford government warned about expansion of urban boundaries

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford attends a photo opportunity on a construction site in Brampton as he starts his re-election campaign on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

As the Ford government continues to weather the fallout from the Greenbelt affair, the Ontario NDP has unveiled new leaked documents about the expansion of urban boundaries across the province — which the party is calling “Act 2” of the scandal.

In a bid to boost housing supply by 2051, the Ford government tweaked the boundaries of several cities and counties, including Guelph, Wellington, Waterloo, Barrie, Belleville and Peterborough in April to include previously undeveloped lands in the official municipal plan.

The result, according to the internal document from the Ministry of Housing, would open up more than 4,700 hectares of land for housing development by 2051.

The document, which the NDP said was leaked to it by a civil servant, contains “key messages” for the minister and political staff to respond to media inquiries about the changes and lays out the “contentious issues” and “mitigation tactics” the government could use to bypass concerns.

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The document begins by stating the reasons behind the government’s decision: that the government needs to focus on building 1.5 million homes by 2031 and “maximize housing outcomes.”

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“Municipalities must not only grow out by expanding their settlement boundaries, but they must also grow up and embrace increased height and density. Both must happen to address the housing crisis,” the document states.

The confidential document addresses a range of issues, including conflicts with local planning decisions, third-party requests for land removal and lack of consultation with Indigenous communities.

“What’s we’re seeing is Act 1 of the Greenbelt corruption crisis,” NDP Leader Marit Stiles said in a news conference.

In Waterloo, where the government modified the boundaries to include an additional 2,380 hectares of land, ministry officials warned the government it could face questions about requests made by “third parties.”

“There may be some concerns about the lands proposed to be added including third-party requests that were assessed by regional staff and were not recommended for inclusion in the urban boundary,” the document warned.

In Guelph, where changes were made to support a cold storage facility, ministry officials told the government city council could view the move as “interfering with local land use planning matters.”

In several instances, the government was also told there would be significant concerns over limited consultation with Indigenous communities and the lack of information about the changes.

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“The Ministerial modifications to expand the Regions settlement boundary were not shared with Indigenous communities,” the document states in one of the decisions notes. “A Minister’s decision to expand the Regions settlement boundary by 2,380 is likely to be met with opposition by Indigenous communities.”

Stiles said that “Ford’s Conservatives decided to plow ahead regardless.”

“They knew what they were doing was wrong,” she said. “But still, they unilaterally forced municipalities to expand their urban boundaries onto prime farmlands and critical watersheds even though they know it wasn’t rooted in evidence, and that it didn’t involve adequate public consultation.”

When asked about the changes, Housing Minister Paul Calandra defended the government saying the boundary adjustments were made in support of the government’s goal of building 1.5 million homes.

Premier Doug Ford also stressed that the government consulted with mayors before implementing some of the changes and received their support.

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