Ontario passes housing bill amid criticism from cities, conservation authorities

Ontario passed a housing bill Monday intended to spur development. Critics, however, say it will lead to higher property taxes, weaken conservation authority powers and not actually make homes more affordable.

The new law is just one move among many in a flurry of recent housing changes from the Progressive Conservative government, including plans to open some areas of the protected Greenbelt land to development and allowing the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to pass bylaws with just one-third of council support.

Premier Doug Ford's housing push comes as the government attempts to get 1.5 million homes built in 10 years, while high inflation and interest rates have already forced the province to revise projections for housing starts downward. Ontario expects to build fewer than 80,000 new homes a year in the next couple of years.

From pledging to never build on it in 2018 to saying it's part of the solution to Ontario's housing crisis in 2022, here's how the premier's position on the controversial issue has changed.

Media reports have suggested that some prominent developers who are Progressive Conservative donors stand to benefit from the move. Some bought land not long before the government's announcement earlier this month, despite the land being ostensibly undevelopable at the time, according to investigations by the Toronto Star and the
Narwhal, as well as The Globe and Mail.

CBC Toronto has also uncovered additional properties linked to a prominent developer family in Ontario, days after reporting they're poised to win a decades-long battle to build homes on protected Greenbelt land.When asked Monday about the optics of developers buying land shortly before the announcement, Clark said it was important to do everything he can to get shovels in the ground.

The Opposition NDP's sole leadership contestant, Marit Stiles, has asked the auditor general to investigate.

"I think where there's a whole lot of smoke, somebody better be looking for the fire," she said Monday after question period.

Opposition condemns bill

Ontario NDP housing critic Jessica Bell says the vast majority of Ontarians won't benefit from the bill.

"Bill 23 will make Ford's developer buddies even richer, while hurting Ontarians by making the housing crisis even worse," said Bell in a statement. 

"Ford's legislation jeopardizes environmentally sensitive land; it puts renters at greater risk of being evicted or having their rent jacked up; and it will see purpose-built affordable rental buildings torn down and replaced with luxury condos the average person cannot afford."

The party is calling on the government to increase rental housing supply, bring back rent control and spend more on non-market rate housing. It also wants to see more affordable and missing middle homes in existing neighbourhoods.

The Ontario Green Party, meanwhile, condemned the lack of consultation on the bill, citing a lack of approval from anti-poverty activists, municipal representatives, healthcare workers and Indigenous people. 

The Chiefs of Ontario also issued a statement saying the government's passage of the bill without consulting First Nations violates the province's duty to consult.

"Pushing this destructive piece of legislation through, despite widespread public opposition, and without meaningful consultation from the public, including Indigenous groups, is a dereliction of duty and inexcusable," Mike Schreiner, the Green party's leader, said in a statement.

"I call on the Premier to repeal Bill 23, halt their destructive pro-sprawl agenda and plans to pave over the Greenbelt and to implement real solutions to the housing crisis." 

With files from CBC News