Kingston residents denounce Bill 23 ahead of its passing

A crowd of well over a hundred gathered in front of Kingston's City Hall on Sunday to denounce the Ontario government's Bill 23, which the province says aims to spur development to meet lofty housing goals.

As of Monday, the bill successfully passed - much to the dismay of the crowd gathered on Sunday morning.

While Ford says this bill - dubbed the "More Homes Built Faster Act" - will help the province meet its goal of building 1.5 million homes in the next decade, critics say meeting that goal by further increasing urban sprawl will have disastrous effects.

While all sides agree that creative solutions will be required to meet the growing need for housing, in February the Ontario government's Housing Affordability Task Force made 55 recommendations, including one key recommendation to increase density within cities rather than expanding suburbs.

"A shortage of land isn't the cause of the problem," the report reads.

"Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts. We need to make better use of land."

The Conservative government's insistence on expanding cities, including through protected areas of the Greenbelt, in spite of this recommendation has many critics suggesting this legislation is meant only to benefit Ontario's real estate developers.

Ian Clark, from Just Recovery Kingston and one of Sunday's speakers, said the bill would be a disaster for not just the environment, but housing affordability as a whole.

Clark pointed to Bill 23's overturning of a regulation that stipulates anyone tearing down a building with six or more units must ensure those units are replaced as just one example of this bill being pro-developer, and not pro-people.

"It literally gets rid of a regulation that makes sure we don't lose units in the name of making sure we have more units," Clark said.

"All because they're so beholden to this idea that giving as much power to private industry without any form of regulation is the only way to fix anything."

Clark says the bill is meant to "further entrench" housing as a profit generating commodity, and increasing supply will not help that problem unless that ideology is challenged.

"The biggest cause of the affordability crisis is and always has been the fact that the overwhelming majority of our housing supply, especially rental housing, is in the hands of people whose only motivation is to make as much money as possible," Clark said.

While the bill's freeze or reduction of fees that developers pay to municipalities to build affordable housing could encourage more to be built, it also doubles down on naming 80% of market rent as affordable and takes money out of the hands of municipalities for other services.

Lesley Rudy, a Queen's biology grad who works with Ontario Nature, says the bill is almost sure to strip the province of its already depleted collection of wetlands in favour of unnecessary urban sprawl.

Rudy said Ontario has already lost 72% of its wetlands and simply can't afford to lose more.

She says the bill opens the door for certain "provincially significant wetlands" to lose their protected status, and makes it much harder for new locations to receive protected status.

Rudy added that while the province proposes policies like offsetting, where one wetland is destroyed and another is created elsewhere in order to compensate, research shows those efforts are likely to fall short.

"Research has shown over and over again, it almost never works," Rudy said.

"It almost always results in a loss of biodiversity, a loss of value."

Rudy also explained that the evaluation of wetlands would no longer be up to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and those duties could fall to the proponents of developers themselves.

Jeremy Milloy, Lead of Integrity of Creation and Climate Change and Sunday's rally leader, pointed out that in local cases like the rejection of the proposed Davis Tannery development, the public pushback that in part led to that decision wouldn't have even been a discussion with Bill 23 in place.

The rally Sunday called for Kingston to join the cities endorsing the Conservation Authority's concerns with Bill 23.

While Bill 23 officially passed on Monday morning, proposed changes to the province's Greenbelt are open for public feedback until December 4.

The Ford government has previously asserted that it would not cut the protected Greenbelt area.