Ontario Government Tables Bill to Reverse Urban Boundary Expansions Amid Controversy, Seeks New Housing Strategies

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra tabled legislation Thursday that would reverse controversial city and regional boundary expansions.

Legislation to Roll Back City and Regional Boundary Expansions, Focus Shifts to Increasing Density

In a significant policy shift, Ontario Housing Minister Paul Calandra has tabled legislation aimed at reversing urban and regional boundary expansions that were implemented under the previous housing minister’s tenure. This move comes in response to widespread criticism over the handling of these expansions and their environmental and political ramifications.

Unwinding Controversial Expansions

The proposed legislation seeks to undo changes made to the official plans of several municipalities, including Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, and various regional municipalities. These expansions, part of a broader initiative to construct 1.5 million homes over the next decade, faced backlash for including land from the protected Greenbelt.

Criticisms and Investigations

Calandra expressed discomfort with the process led by the previous minister’s staff, citing a lack of public trust. Two legislative watchdogs found the selection process for removing Greenbelt land flawed and biased towards certain developers. The controversy peaked with the resignation of the then-housing minister and another cabinet member, following public outcry and the initiation of an RCMP criminal investigation into the Greenbelt land removals.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra, right, stands next to Ontario Premier Doug Ford in the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday October 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Focused on Sustainable Development

Reinforcing a commitment to more sustainable development, Calandra highlighted plans to increase housing density, particularly near transit corridors and stations. “I’ve heard from many mayors and heads of council who agree that we need to be more ambitious,” he stated, emphasizing the need for feedback on amending the original official plans.

Legal Immunity and Continuing Construction

The bill also introduces legal immunity provisions for actions related to the making, amending, or revoking of minister’s zoning orders (MZOs), aiming to shield the government and municipalities from legal challenges. Construction already underway in the expanded areas will continue, but future developments must conform to each municipality’s official plans.

A Call for Collaboration

Calandra’s approach marks a departure from his predecessor’s policies, focusing on collaborative efforts with municipal partners. Municipalities have until December 7 to submit information about ongoing projects or proposed modifications to the official plans. “In the spirit of being more ambitious, I am urging our municipal partners to prioritize increasing density, especially near transit,” Calandra noted, underscoring the importance of sustainable urban planning.

While the government has reversed some decisions, including Greenbelt removals, certain changes, such as provisions to protect the Greenbelt and ensure safe drinking water, will remain. The fate of the Highway 413 corridor in Peel and Halton Regions also remains unchanged.