Last week, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne posted mandate letters online for each Ministry. The letters identify the government’s priorities for the next four years. And there was some interesting information that relates to the future of Ontario’s Greenbelt.
Some of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing priorities include creating complete communities, providing shorter commute times and healthier living options. These are all good things that Ontario needs if it will continue to grow in sustainable ways and protection of the Greenbelt will help give us the denser, more transit friendly communities we need.
It’s a critical time for planning our communities within the GTA. In 2015, the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan and Places to Grow Plan will all be reviewed to determine if they are effectively protecting farmland, nature, clean water by stopping sprawl and creating complete communities. It’s our opinion that these plans are moving in the right direction by focusing growth within existing communities, which helps the GTA stop sprawl onto agricultural lands and natural areas, paving over the farms that feed our cities and destroying the nature that gives us air, water and recreation.
But, there is room for improvement. Leapfrog development to communities just beyond the Greenbelt requires new costly infrastructure, like the extension of Highway 404 to Bradford. This past June the Municipal Leaders for the Greenbelt asked the province to improve the process for municipalities to grow the Greenbelt to extend its protection to communities. If achieved these changes will make it easier to protect urban river valleys, agriculture, limit sprawl, and reduce the need for costly infrastructure.
Moving people by transit is a key part of a complete communities strategy. However, many communities lack the funding to invest in new transit. In our report, The High Costs of Sprawl, we outlined the opportunities to fund transit through changes to the way fees are charged for new developments so more dense developments pay lower fees. We believe it’s time to stop subsidizing sprawl and we are pleased to see the province is prioritizing this key issue.
Amendments to the Building Code and reform of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) are also important initiatives outlined in the mandate letter. The OMB, an arbitration board, makes final decisions on land-use decisions when there are conflicts. An OMB appeal is an expensive process and, decisions often undermine smart growth. Changes are needed to make citizen participation easier and less expensive while upholding municipal and provincial plans.
Making changes to the building code to position Ontario as a leader in efficiency of buildings will help us address climate change and reduce energy costs while inspiring innovation in the building industry. This is good news for builders, building owners and home owners.
Now that we have the roadmap for where the province is going, we’ll be working to ensure the government keeps its promises.