‘Aimless’ building should not be goal of Ontario’s new housing bill, says Beaches-East York MPP

On Oct. 25, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative provincial government introduced the More Homes Built Faster Act (Bill 23) which aims to build 1.5 million homes in Ontario within the next decade.

However, concerns have been expressed that in order to achieve this goal in a timely manner the bill leaves out some necessary regulations that serve to ensure there isn’t a negative environmental impact from the developments

One of the more outspoken critics of Bill 23 is Beaches-East York’s Liberal MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon. She has asked for amendments to the bill in ways that are more helpful to the environment and avoid putting Ontarians at risk in the event of natural disasters.

She said one of the main reasons the environmental regulations were in place was to prevent malpractices such as building on floodplains.

“I’m supportive of the bill,” said McMahon. “We’re in a housing crisis so I’m very supportive of building houses quickly. But it’s not about whether we grow and build. Rather, it’s about how we grow and build.”

She told Beach Metro Community News her party is working with lawyers on amendments to the bill that they deem more suitable for residents. McMahon’s primary concerns are regarding the defunding of the province’s conservation authorities which would restrict their ability to review the environmental impact of development applications.

She also believes that the bill, which she said would “effectively kill the Toronto Green Standard”, makes it impossible for the city to achieve net zero emissions by 2040.

The Ford government’s reason for waiving conservation authorities’ powers is to remove some of the steps that slows down the development processes. But McMahon said that their purpose is being undervalued.

“We brought in the conservation authorities; they’re here for a reason,” said McMahon. “They protected us for years and will continue to do so if we value them. And if we don’t, we’re going to be on the hook.”

As weather disasters have become a more regular occurrence in Canada over the past year, a major concern for Ontarians is the financial risk of a flood. Research by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo revealed that a basement flood will now cost the average Canadian upwards of $40,000.

In 2021, weather events related to climate change cost Canadians $2.1 billion in insured damages and could reach $139 billion by 2050, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

One of the most notable recent disasters is perhaps the November 2021 flooding which occurred after a mammoth storm, sometimes referred to as an atmospheric river, descended on the south coast of British Columbia causing about $450 million in insured damages alone.

It became clear to environmentalists and government officials, such as McMahon, that inaction against a now more noticeable climate crisis is perhaps costing more than if we took proactive steps to protect Canadians from future natural disasters.

“Many areas in Ontario are at risk of flooding so we need nature-based solutions. We need to be smart,” said McMahon. “We need to have resilient infrastructure and that comes with expertise from the conservation authorities.”

But as Canada aims to welcome almost 1.5 million immigrants into the country by 2024, it is expected that most of them will end up in Ontario which has made building houses quickly a priority.

By waiving fees and removing some of the red tape around home development, Bill 23 aims to attract more developers to build housing in the province. But along with speeding up the process of building the target number of new homes, it also does long-term damage to Ontarians who may be affected by natural disasters in the future, said McMahon.

“There have definitely been things that are slowing development down,” she said. “We can look at streamlining things but not to the detriment of the safety of Ontarians or the detriment of the preservation of our green space and ecologically significant areas.”

The bill’s proposal for a reduction in development charges is also a point of concern for McMahon. She said these charges are what helps fund the City of Toronto’s infrastructure.

“Basically, if it goes through as is, it will bankrupt the municipality,” said McMahon. “They would have no other choice but to raise taxes.”

In her formal address to the legislature at Queen’s Park on Oct. 27, McMahon pleaded with her fellow MPPs that the urgent development of houses cannot be a “free-for-all”, rather, it must be “implemented thoughtfully and sustainably”.

“Aimless construction will only cost the government and the people of Ontario more in the long run,” she said. “It will not be affordable nor safe without careful, logical and forward-thinking planning.”

She reminded the legislature about some of the reasons why conservation authorities were created and building on flood plains was controlled.

In 1954, Hurricane Hazel damaged more than 1,000 homes that had been built on floodplains including those of the Humber River in Toronto. A total of 81 Ontarians lost their lives as a result of flooding brought about by Hurricane Hazel, prompting the province to expand the duties and powers of conservation authorities in order to avoid similar avoidable tragedies in the future.

The future is today, said McMahon, and she is urging the Ford government to learn lessons from the past and prevent a repeat of a tragedy such as flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel given the and increasing impacts of climate change.

“We need to focus on emergency preparedness and climate adaptation, and do everything in our power to ensure that we are ready when these extreme events come,” said McMahon. “Because we all know they are coming, and more rapidly than we ever anticipated.”

Amarachi Amadike, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Beach Metro Community News