On Tuesday in Guelph, the new city council, including five people who are councillors for the first time, took their oath of office and sat in their chairs around the horseshoe.
On Wednesday, the provincial government announced that from this point on, they will be appointing the regional chairs of Niagara, Peel and York, and assessing the regional governments in Durham, Halton, and Waterloo as well. They’ll also be accelerating the Strong Mayor powers to allow mayors in Ottawa and Toronto to pass resolutions with only one-third of council members.
You may not have heard about this because on Wednesday morning, CUPE members sent their five-day strike notice to the Ministry of Education. Schools might be closed again this coming week, and that’s a more immediate concern to most people than who names the chair of some regional government.
This has been a trend lately. On Nov. 3, when thousands of Ontario’s workers were picketing in support of CUPE, the provincial government announced a reassessment of the Greenbelt wherein 7,400 acres would be shaved from the protected land around the GTHA, while adding 9,400 new acres along the northern edge. So hey, it’s bigger.
Interestingly, this “pro-environmental” announcement from a government that’s frequently seen as anything but, was dropped at 3 p.m. on Friday. It went out with the trash, so to speak, released late on a Friday afternoon when most people’s eyes and ears where on labour issues.
And then there’s the coup de grâce, the announcement of the More Homes Built Faster Act, which takes much of the legislation governing planning in this province and turns it into papier-mâché. That news was dropped less than 24 hours after the completion of 444 municipal elections in Ontario.
In other words, as candidates woke up, weary and bleary-eyed after months of campaigning, the province re-wrote the rules and the expectations they ran on.
All this is intentional because these moves are grossly unpopular, and in the case of the Greenbelt, a flip-flop on promises made about leaving that land alone. If the government does end up getting away with this, it’s because too many people will have drank the proverbial Kool-aid and accepted that the biggest impediment to housing development is the rules we put in place to govern it.
Now let’s be fair because sometimes bureaucracy is an impediment to getting things done, and there is value looking within to see if maybe you’re part of the problem, but there are some things to consider before you get out the scissors and paste and take them to the big book of planning legislation.
First, is the problem the rate at which were approving new developments? Guelph has approved around 1,000 units this year alone, which is not the 1,800 the province is asking us to do every year for the next 10 years, but its not nothing either.
Second, if Guelph is like other communities, then there could be hundreds of thousands of units around Ontario that are waiting for shovels to be put in the ground. Why is that? Sure, it could be issues around site planning, but is that because city staff are being overly prescriptive, or is it because city staff are overwhelmed with work?
Third, how much consultation was done with municipalities on some/any of these changes? My suspicion is that there was none. If the problem is government, which this legislation seems to indicate, then why not engage them to find solutions instead of dropping an omnibus A-bomb on them the day after election day?
And it’s not like this government isn’t aware of other issues in the effort to build more homes, things like the supply chain, things like vacancy in skilled labour and trades. The Ontario government has worked diligently to try and fill those vacancies, but you can’t just download the knowledge and experience of a carpenter or an electrician into the heads of young people Matrix-style.
On top of all these considerations, none of these proposed changes tackle affordable housing, which is to say that they don’t address how we build houses that more people can actually buy or rent.
If you’re able to play in the market, as an owner or a buyer, you’re probably going to have your pick, but are any of the developers who will take advantage of these changes make the active decision to not make a profit? Does building 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years mean that the average housing price will magically fall by hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Of course it won’t.
The Ontario Living Wage Network raised the living wage in Guelph and area this week to nearly $20 an hour, and much of that nearly $2 increase from last year is driven by the cost of shelter. Minimum wage is now $15.50, which means that the minimum cost of work is no where near the actual cost of living in Guelph and there’s nothing in these changes that will close that distance.
What’s been proposed from the Ontario government are solutions that undermine municipal governance in the name of simplicity, which shouldn’t be a surprise because Doug Ford, as a politician, has no real ideology.
Ford’s worldview is indicitive of a man who’s suffered no real hardship in his life and has enjoyed incredible privilege. That’s why he thinks the solution to homelessness is more housing. It’s why he thinks roads are only for cars. It’s why he says asinine things like “We believe kids should be in school,” as if there’s a large constituency that’s saying, “No, keep kids at home!”
These plans from the province do not address that unaffordable housing has been a problem longer than the recent crisis. It does not address the fact that upper levels of government abandoned social housing decades ago. It’s also doesn’t address the fact that we don’t value all work equally, or that social assistance rates are essentially legislated poverty.
Welcome to Ontario. Open for business, but closed to oversight or actual solutions.