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Sunday, February 5, 2023
Arch-i-text: It’s up to the people to stop Ford’s steamroller
Doug Ford has a steamroller approach to development, says columnist Brian Marshall. File/Evan Saunders

For the last two weeks I have written about the Ford government’s Bill 23, the so-called More Homes Built Faster Act. 

We examined the negative impacts this legislation will have on agriculture, environment, heritage, culture, municipal governments and the inevitable increase in taxes that will occur as it is rolled out.

The intent of this legislation is not to build truly affordable housing but rather to expedite the ease (and costs) with which developers can build McMansions and the like.

It is blatant pandering to a sector that has contributed heavily to the provincial Conservative party coffers.

Interestingly, the vast majority of mayors (and councils) in this province have spoken in strong opposition to the legislation. 

The City of Toronto estimated it would lose in excess of $200 million per year in revenue and similarly the City of London has suggested it would take close to a $100-million hit.

These losses, typically directed to improving infrastructure to service the new developments, would need to be made up by taxpayers.

Days of protest organized by the Green Party in various Ontario cities were attended by thousands of concerned citizens. 

Petitions by a number of organizations representing the environment, agriculture and architecture were raised and signed by many. Voices of opposition have been heard across the province.

Still, in the face of all this, the Ford government pushed through final reading of the legislation this week. But, that doesn’t mean it is the end of this story. 

Ford has on a number of occasions retracted and/or reversed the legislative steamroller he drives. Could sufficient pressure at high levels of the Conservative party cause him to do it again?

I hope that Niagara-on-the-Lake’s new lord mayor and council have added their voices to those of their elected colleagues across the province. 

And, once again I call on my fellow citizens to register their opposition. Call Mr. Ford … he likes to say he actually takes calls.

And, as a point of clarification, I do not consider all developers to be the “enemy.” On the contrary, there are many real estate development companies that are both socially responsible and build in a fashion that contributes positively to a community. 

But it is my experience that developers are engaged in an industry that has proven to be very profitable and I see no justification for any level of government to augment that profitability. 

Further, I consider it dangerous when, as in the case with Bill 23, government oversight is reduced to a point where any business sector becomes essentially self-regulating.

Corporations, of any sort, owe their first and primary responsibility to maximizing profitability on behalf of their shareholders. 

The “public good,” which includes protection of the past, present and future of its communities, is the primary justification for the existence of government and the abrogation of that charge, such as those introduced by Bill 23, is a failure to uphold the basic premise of our government.

Sad day for NOTL heritage

Moving on to another topic of concern, four weeks ago (in my Nov. 10 column) I raised the issue of the potential loss of an historic residence at 14 Highlander in Queenston. 

An application to demolish this home and subsequently sever the lot for new builds had been made. The application was scheduled to go before the committee of adjustment on Nov. 17.

I was informed today that severance had been granted and, I assume, the demolition of this irreplaceable piece of Niagara-on-the-Lake history has been permitted. It is a sad day in a community that prides itself on the preservation of heritage.

This application and its hearing by the committee of adjustment fell into the “grey space” that our electoral system creates. In other words, that relatively brief period of time during which our council is in flux between who is the “watchdog” of the community good and who is not.

However, the committee’s ruling still requires council’s approval. So, perhaps there could be a last-minute stay of execution.

Looking ahead, perhaps it is time for town council to introduce a moratorium period for decisions by any sitting committee within, say, 90 days (that is, 45 days prior to and 45 days after) of the actual voting date?

This simple action would eliminate the excuse that it “slipped through the cracks” that many of the worst permitted infill builds have been predicated on.

Brian Marshall is a NOTL realtor, author and expert consultant on architectural design, restoration and heritage.

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