‘Firm urban boundary’ saving Hamilton farmland killed by Ford government

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Published November 4, 2022 at 8:21 pm

PC leader Doug Ford will be making a 10:30 am campaign stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake and then stopping briefly in St. Catharines afterwards. (Photo: CP Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

The hard-fought-for urban boundary freeze in Hamilton has been torched by the province, likely opening the door to more suburban sprawl in one of the most ecologically vulnerable areas of Canada.

Hamiton is in a region identified by experts as the second-most vulnerable part of Canada to extreme heat caused by climate change. Extreme heat also poses a greater risk to human health than floods and fires, although it does not cause as much property damage.

In a ruling posted Friday, the Environmental Registry of Ontario has overturned the protections of 1,340 hectares of farmland, which leaders leaders in Hamilton added to the city’s official plan in November 2021. It also bans the City of Hamilton from requiring green building and density standards. City-wide minimum intensification and density targets have been abolished and indication that these will be established as part of a future Official Plan Amendment

The ERO edict, which cannot be appealed, is signed by Assistant Deputy Minister Hannah Evans. All told, the province is imposing 102 modifications to the city’s official plan — 77 in the urban area, and 25 in the rural area. The urban boundary would be expanded by 2,200 gross hectares.

Outgoing Mayor Fred Eisenberger characterized the urban boundary decision as taking “where-should-we-grow option.” None of the three sprawl-friendly councillors will be in office after the new council is sworn in the week after next.

But Premier Doug Ford’s PC Party of Ontario (PCPO) government and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark is are hoping to pass their controversial Bill 23 by the end of December. Clark also called Hamilton’s plan “anti-housing” at Queen’s Park on March 31 after being fed by a question by Hamilton-area PCPO MPP Donna Skelly, a backbencher who represents Flamborough—Glanbrook.

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Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas MPP Sandy Shaw, a New Democrat whose riding also contains rural areas and farmland, criticized the government’s intention.

“Donna Skelly proves again that the conservatives are as shortsighted as ever,” Shaw wrote in a tweet that day. “Their (the PC Party’s) housing plan: pave paradise, put up a parking lot (and) steamroll over local decision makers.”

Renters and climate justice groups protested Bill 23 on Thursday at the Hamilton East—Stoney Creek constituency office of PCPO Tourism, Culture and Sport Neil Lumsden. Multiple posts on social media said the office was locked.

Across several months last year, hundreds of Hamilitonians encouraged elected leadership in the city to maintain an urban boundary, despite lobbying for the expansion from the building industry. Council ultimately voted 13-3 last Nov. 19 to leave the boundary alone, and plan for infill housing to meet provincial targets (at that time) of adding 236,000 people and 122,000 jobs across the next three decades.

The decision posted by ERO, and first reported in Hamilton by The Public Record, overturns a decisions that was made locally. And they cannot be appealed. The 30-day period for public comment ended Oct. 8. Most comments were supportive of the made-in-Hamilton choice.

It now claims Hamilton is expected to grow to a minimum population of 820,000 by 2051 with 360,000 jobs, without mentioning the current tallies.

‘Firm urban boundary’ wording deleted

The City of Hamilton Official Plan now no longer contains this passage, “It is the intent of the City of Hamilton to maintain a firm urban boundary. Lands shall not be removed from the boundaries of Rural Hamilton and added to the Urban Area.”

Also, a principle stated that the city’s strategic plan that Hamilton is committed to “a strong rural community protected by a firm urban boundary” was edited. It is clipped to, “A strong rural community.”

Likewise, a key operative clause was deleted from the part of the official plan that directs the city’s climate change action plan, corporate energy and sustainability policy, and the climate adaptation strategy. It used to say, “These plans will require, where possible, incentivize and encourage environmental sustainability, including reducing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and improving climate resiliency.”

The phrase, “require, where possible” was crossed out by the province.

Bill 23, entitled the More Homes, Built Faster act, has drawn criticism. Concerns have been expressed by the likes of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, conversation authorities in Hamilton and Halton, and climate justice groups.

Hamilton is on the traditional territories of the Mississaugas as well as the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee. It is in one of the most extreme heat-vulnerable areas of Canada. Extreme heat and other swings in weather can affect individuals’ health outcomes, especially those in equity-seeking and/or marginalized groups.

A report published in April by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo warned that Canadians need to start taking extreme heat seriously. The report said extreme heat is going to hit the Hamilton-Niagara region harder than almost anywhere else in Canada, second only to the Windsor-Essex, Ont., area.

It warned more than 17 million people, nearly half the Canadian population, live in urban areas most at risk of extreme heat issues in the decades to come.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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