Wayne Gates wants Niagara-on-the-Lake council to support him in fighting back against the province’s controversial new housing legislation, Bill 23.
Also known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, it was passed in November and revises many of the rules for development in Ontario.
“Please, take a serious look at Bill 23 and the harm that its going to do,” Gates, the New Democrat MPP for Niagara Falls riding, told council Tuesday night.
He added that he wasn’t asking for much, just the opportunity to work together to “change the minds of this government for the betterment of this community.”
Gates was joined by Owen Bjorgan, a resident expert in biodiversity.
The two argued that the province has sacrificed environmental protections in the name of affordable housing.
The bill makes amendments to the Greenbelt Act and remove land used to grow tender fruit, replaces them with urban river valleys and parts of the Paris Galt Moraine.
“We should not confuse quantity for quality,” Bjorgan warned.
He added that regardless of the land the province chooses to add, it cannot replace them once they’ve been built on.
“We need all these interconnected pieces,” he said. “If we pick away at the Greenbelt, it will erode the biodiversity of the area.”
The Lake Report reported in November that the legislation also makes amendments to the wetland evaluation system.
Those changes could potentially declassify land that now protected by its wetland status.
Bjorgan said if the town loses its wetlands, its fresh water quality will suffer.
Gates said water quality has a direct impact on the town’s economy, as it could impact wine production in the region.
“Conservation agencies across the province are ringing the alarm that water quality and our environment directly affects our tourism industry, our property values and our recreation,” Gates said.
Bjorgan argued that the legislation had been “rammed through.”
And Gates said it had been done without “meaningful consultation” with municipalities.
“Don’t be a bystander in an unfair fight,” Bjorgan said.
Gates also said the bill was not effective in addressing the issue of affordability.
“It is very clear we are facing a crisis in housing,” Gates said. “But (Bill 23) will not solve the housing crisis,” he added.
He pointed out Niagara does not need additional land to meet the province’s density requirements or building requirements.
“There’s more than enough land to build over 2 million homes in the greater Toronto horseshoe by 2031, without even touching the Greenbelt,” he said.
A report written by Kevin Eby, former head planner for Waterloo Region, corroborates Gates’ claim.
“Your council has the opportunity to stand up and make sure that you are directing the vision of what the town looks like,” Gates added.
He invited the council to join other towns in pushing back against the province to delay its plans for housing until towns are properly consulted.
There were no questions from council, but Coun. Sandra O’Connor pointed out that both the council and staff have submitted responses to the province on the topic of Bill 23.