‘Steamroll over local decision makers’; NDP MPP responds to Ontario PCs calling Hamilton farmland protections ‘anti-housing’


Published March 31, 2022 at 9:22 pm

The Hamilton city councillors who voted last fall to freeze the urban boundary and protect farmland — responding to months of anti-sprawl community organizing — knew full well the province could try to override the decision.

Now it appears that might come to pass. At Queen’s Park in Toronto on Thursday, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, responding to government questions from Hamilton-area MPP and fellow Ontario PC Party representative Donna Skelly, said he might send Hamilton’s official plan to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).

Cities such as Hamilton are required to have official plans to met provincially set job and population growth targets 30 years in advance. The PCs, who face re-election in June, just this week tabled a bill called ‘More Homes For Everyone’ that they say is aimed at the province’s housing crisis.

Hamilton’s elected leadership is due to vote in May on an official plan that leaves the urban boundary as is.

“The official plans that I’ve seen from Hamilton and Ottawa don’t maximize the housing outcomes for Ontarians — and instead prioritize anti-growth, and anti-housing ideology,” Clark said in the legislature. “If (the PCs’ housing bill is) passed, I would pause the timeline on the official plans I have received and I would consider referring them to the Ontario Land Tribunal as an impartial adjudicator.

“I have not yet received Hamilton’s official plan, but I want to emphasize to the House that I am prepared to take the same approach if Hamilton’s official plan doesn’t maximize housing for the hard-working people of Hamilton, including those in Flamborough—Glanbrook (which is Skelly’s riding).”

Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas MPP Sandy Shaw, who is the Ontario New Democratic Party’s environment critic, accused the governing party of trying to “steamroll” Hamilton’s elected leadership.

“As an MPP, I speak with my (Hamilton) community, not against them,” Shaw wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately Donna Skelly proves again that the conservatives are as shortsighted as ever. Their housing plan: pave paradise, put up a parking lot (and) steamroll over local decision makers.”

Later in the evening, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he joined fellow Ontario big-city mayors in “commending” the PCs’ bill.

Ambitious density was defeated decisively

City council voted 13-3 on Nov. 19 against the staff-recommended ‘ambitious density’ scenario. Eisenberger, who voted with the majority, described the choice as the “where-should-we-grow option.”

At that time, Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko also said that, in and of itself, building more housing does not automatically make prices come down.

“There is a multitude of reasons of why housing is so expensive and continues to increase in cost,” Danko said on Nov. 19. “The no-boundary-expansion option gives us a real impetus to make really important changes in how we get around our city and how we deal with greenhouse gas emissions as a whole.

“We’ve also heard loud and clear from the farming community that the farmland (that would have been opened to development) is the best farmland in Canada.”

In posing questions to Clark on Thursday, Skelly noted the average price of a home in Hamilton is over $1 million. According to WOWA.ca, the average sale price in the city last month was $1.013 million, which was 32 per cent higher than 12 months earlier.

Housing costs in Hamilton are skyrocketing. However, last spring, the City of Hamilton sent out a survey to get residents’ feedback on municipal staff’s proposed scenario to allow for more than 1,300 hectares of farmland to be opened to development. While the respondents did not reflect a cross-section of Hamilton’s popultion, more than 90 per cent of respondents said they favoured zero urban boundary expansion.

That same opposition prevailed in Skelly’s riding. In Ward 15, which has the same boundary as the Flamborough—Glanbrook, there was 87.8 per cent support for zero urban boundary expansion. Only 8.3 per cent of the 860 respondents from Ward 15 favoured expansion.

The Ontario PCs introduced their housing plan on Wednesday.

The opposition NDP, led by Hamiton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, contended that the bill would not make housing more affordable.

“It doesn’t build starter homes or ‘missing middle’ homes like duplexes and townhomes,” Horwath stated. “The bill does nothing to take on speculation. It doesn’t help renters or buyers.”

The Ontario Liberal Party noted that Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario PC government has had four housing plans in as many years. The latest one, the Liberals claimed, lacked help for first-time home buyers and did not include taxes on developers sitting on land

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called the plan a “missed opportunity” to increase housing supply. Schreiner contended that province needs to address “rampant housing speculation and financialization.” He also said the province needs to “stamp out sprawl and build within existing built-up spaces to protect vital farmland and wetlands.”

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