Opinions and Current Issues Blog

Saba Ahmad is a Litigator working on environmental, administrative and commercial matters in Toronto. Learn more at www.sabaahmad.com

EBC Comments on Bill 23

Comments by Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, Inc.

Concerning Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022

December 8, 2022

These comments are those of Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) a charitable conservation group, protecting 21,000 acres of ecologically significant land and 70 species of conservation concern in Ontario. 

Bill 23 represents an about-face by the Provincial Government, with respect to its own planning priorities for the Province of Ontario – a U turn that was never acknowledged either before or after the recent election, which voted the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party back into power, based on their past policies over the previous four years.

The sudden decision to convert to subdivisions scarce arable and conservation lands in Ontario upends years of planning and policy work by all levels of government. We urge the Province to reconsider and recommit itself to Canada’s commitments presently being made at COP15, the biodiversity conference in Montreal, to preserve 30% of the earth’s land mass, based on scientific study and consensus.[1]

Description of Previous Vision, Emphasizing Location Efficient Development

Before its re-election in 2022, this Government signaled its commitment to location-efficient planning priorities in its policy documents and plans, released in 2019 and 2020. In particular, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing released A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Office Consolidation 2020, in which it identified this Government’s vision for strategic growth in the Province.[2] In those plans, the PC Government expressed concern for:

  • Optimizing existing infrastructure by the development of complete communities, along priority transit corridors, specifying minimum intensification and density targets.
  • Protecting the natural environment of the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), noting that “unmanaged growth can degrade the region’s air quality; water resources; natural heritage resources, such as rivers, lakes, woodlands, and wetlands; and cultural heritage resources.”
  • Building walkable communities, noting that obesity rates, diabetes, and cardiovascular illnesses are linked to automobile-dependent development patterns.
  • The protection of our finite supply of quality agricultural lands to ensure a secure food supply for Ontarians.

In 2019, the PC Government provided Ontarians with studies, proving with evidence that its vision was best for Ontario. The Government stated that its vision “protects the Greenbelt and will ensure a cleaner environment is passed on to future generations. A Place to Grow will support the achievement of complete communities with access to transit networks, protected employment zones and an increase in the amount and variety of housing available.”[3] This Government’s own report conclusively demonstrates that housing construction is not constrained by land availability.

So important was the protection of human health and the environment, the PC Government promised that if legislation around planning priorities conflicted, “the direction that provides more protection to the natural environment or human health prevails.”[4] 

The Ministry of the Environment’s current website confirms this Government’s 2020 vision. It boasts “We are working to protect and recover our natural spaces and species and support conservation efforts to preserve Ontario’s rich biodiversity.”[5] It itemizes a number of initiatives intended to promote land conservation, particularly in the Greenbelt.

With these policies, the Province correctly identified the values and priorities of Ontarians.

The balancing of growth against the limitations of existing infrastructure, scarcity of valuable farmland, and the protection of the environment coincides with the EBC’s mandate and mission, which is to preserve and protect the most ecologically sensitive lands in the Province.  In its practice, EBC has followed the guidance of Ministry experts, based on solid evidence and leading planning practices aimed at improving the quality of life of Ontarians. EBC seeks to preserve the most ecologically sensitive lands, and avoids making nature preserves on, for example, valuable agricultural lands. Until now, the work of EBC was aligned with the vision put forth by the Provincial government.

Description of New Vision, Prioritizing McMansions

Bill 23 has now gutted the vision outlined on this Government’s own present website and recent policy statements. Bill 23 prevails over any conflicting legislation,[6] thus the priorities outlined in the Places to Grow Act are no longer applicable. In addition, Ontario’s proposal to remove 7,400 acres of precious farmland and conservation land from the Greenbelt negates the promises made in the Government’s 2020 plan, and which it continues to make on its website, today.

This Government protected these conservation lands from development because they have significant environmental value. The Niagara Escarpment itself is classified as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, which the Niagara Escarpment Commission is charged with protecting (recognizing, of course, that half of the Niagara Escarpment sits within the territory of the Saugeen Ojibwe Nation).

These lands are now opened up for development by a myriad of legislative changes, including:

  • Removing the requirement of permits within regulated areas (including wetlands) for activity that is part of a development authorized under the Planning Act;
  • Removing the ability of Conservation Authorities to constrain development of fragile natural areas that host endangered species; and
  • Removing the ability of municipalities and local citizens to protest and protect local agricultural and recreational land through public meetings and comment period.

Sprawl is Harmful

Developing the Greenbelt opens the door to widespread environmental destruction on ecologically sensitive land, close to Canada’s largest urban area. The protection of the Greenbelt was intended to constrain unchecked growth into these areas for important economic and environmental reasons. It damages the Government’s credibility for it to suddenly designate these lands as suitable for development, when all of its studies have led it to the opposite conclusion, for years.

Building single-family detached subdivision homes in remote conservation areas is the definition of suburban sprawl. Sprawl not only threatens biodiversity, it also represents one of the largest drivers of climate emissions. The excessive energy consumption needed to heat large, single-family, detached dwellings is but one factor. Emissions from subdivision sprawl also result from housing positioned too far from transit and from employment centres to be reached by active travel. Also, the infrastructure needs of new communities, like sewage, electricity transmission lines, water, not to mention schools, health centres, law enforcement, and community services, do not exist in these greenfield locations. Building in these areas will require a massive investment and further environmental damage to make these new communities safe and liveable, at a time when many existing communities lack adequate services.

Based on EBC’s experience providing habitat for many species at risk, we estimate the loss of habitat for 10 or more species at risk by the development of 7,000 acres of greenbelt and conservation authority lands.  The loss of a species is not just a loss to that species. A lost species is a harbinger of poor ecosystem health. Experts suggest we are at the precipice of sixth mass extinction event on earth. We have largely missed the targets agreed to by world leaders at COP14 in Egypt in 2018. We must increase our efforts to protect biodiversity and it is simply unacceptable for Ontario to backtrack by developing its most precious land.

Conclusion

These changes are not justifiable. As demonstrated by the Province’s previous studies, ample land exists for development. These were identified as strategic zones in the 2019-20 policy document.

EBC is troubled by the Government’s decision to abandon its previous, evidence-based vision, in favour of one which imperils the natural environment and conflicts with our conservation and emissions targets, with no discernible increase in the supply of affordable housing. We call on the Province to consult with affected stakeholders and reconsider its decision.


[1] By the end of 2021, Canada has only conserved 13.5% of its terrestrial area, which is well below its target of conserving 25% by 2025. Government of Canada website: “Canada’s conserved areas”, modified: May 27, 2022, available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental-indicators/conserved-areas.html

[2]  A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe Office Consolidation 2020,

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Queen’s Printer for Ontario, approved by Order in Council No 1244/2020 to take effect on August 28, 2020.

[3] Id. at p. 4.

[4] Id. at p. 7. The complete quote is as follows: “As provided in the Places to Grow Act, 2005, where there is a conflict between the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation, or Niagara Escarpment Plans and this Plan regarding the natural environment or human health, the direction that provides more protection to the natural environment or human health prevails.” 

[5]  A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, updated: September 20, 2022, published: November 27, 2020, available at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan

[6] S. 80, An Act to amend various statutes, to revoke various regulations and to enact the Supporting Growth and Housing in York and Durham Regions Act, 2022

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This entry was posted on December 19, 2022 by in Uncategorized.

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