London, Ont. Mayor Josh Morgan says he’ll meet with his peers later this week to discuss next steps after Ontario passed the controversial Bill 23 on Monday.
Also known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, Bill 23 aims to speed up home construction in the province through a wide array of measures, including cuts to development charges, which are fees imposed by cities on new builds in order to pay for new infrastructure.
In a report last week to city council, city staff estimated the bill’s cuts to development charges could cost London more than $97 million over a five-year period, adding that the bill would shift the burden of paying for new infrastructure to taxpayers and other alternative funding sources.
The report was shared to a special meeting of council last week, which was called by Morgan in order to give council time to provide feedback to the province prior to the bill’s passing.
“We need growth to pay for growth and that’s one of the challenges that we have with this bill — this starts to give discounts and rebates on the (development charges) side and that’s really going to hurt us financially in the long run,” Morgan told Global News.
“This is not just a City of London position, this is something that mayors across the province are echoing.”
While he had hoped the province would’ve consulted with municipalities before passing the bill, Morgan says the conversation doesn’t end there.
Whether it’s considering amendments to the bill or looking at other ways to financially support municipalities, Morgan says he’s committed to working with the province to address his concerns.
Later this week, Morgan will meet with his fellow members of the Ontario’s Big City Mayors group, which consists of mayors of cities with a population of more than 100,000, to discuss how they plan to do so.
“The one thing that we’ve been very good at in this is keeping a unified voice because the concerns that mayors have are consistent across municipalities,” Morgan added.
The projected financial toll for municipalities are just one of the concerns echoed in an outpouring of criticism for Bill 23 ahead of its passing on Monday.
The More Homes Built Faster Act reduces the role of conservation authorities, including limiting the areas they can consider when assessing development permissions, removing factors such as pollution and conservation of the land, as well as flood risk.
Diane-Laure Arjaliès is an associate professor at Ivey Business School and the leader of the school’s Sustainable Finance Lab, and says the bill carries dire consequences for the environment, such as “major impacts in terms of flooding, in terms of extreme weather events.”
“We’re not building a province that’s going to be economically resilient and is going to be ecologically resilient. I worry for the conservation authorities, but the conservation authorities are just a small part of the big picture here,” Arjaliès added.
“Given the science, given what we know about climate change and climate resiliency, it’s very surprising that a government … is making this kind of decision right now.”
Arjaliès, who had presented concerns and suggestions to the province earlier this month alongside her colleagues at Ivey’s Centre for Building Sustainable Value, says there are ways to speed up home construction without threatening the environment.
Examples include prioritizing intensification in established neighbourhoods, encouraging office-to-residential conversion and adding ecological criteria to new builds.
“The research is really clear, there’s no opposition between protecting green infrastructure and having new development, they go hand-in-hand,” Arjaliès added.
The Ontario government says the bill will support its promise to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and “removes unnecessary costs and cuts through red tape and other bottlenecks that stand in the way of new homes being built.”
— With files from The Canadian Press’ Allison Jones.