To say local residents are divided over the passing of the province’s housing bill on Monday would be an understatement. There are two camps.
There are some municipal staff and developers who are delighted the Ontario government is reducing red tape to make it easier to achieve its housing target of 1.5 million more homes.
Then there are some councillors and environmentalists who are outraged by the passing. The swiftness with which the majority Conservatives turned the bill into an act is incredible, despite their assurances of transparency and public input.
Highlanders’ feedback didn’t even hit Queen’s Park before the decision was made. Last week, Minden Hills council joined municipalities across Ontario in rejecting it, as well as Bill 3, the Strong Mayor, Building Homes Act. Brought forward by Coun. Pam Sayne, council endorsed a petition declaring the rules pave the way for unsustainable development in the Highlands. Sayne said the bills weren’t constructive in creating more or better housing for Minden Hills. Her motion called for the province to instead build the municipal planning workforce, and speed up ministry of transportation planning approvals, for example.
Minden Hills mayor Bob Carter said we live in cottage country, where the environment is our livelihood.
If harmed or destroyed, we won’t need new housing because no one will want to come to the Highlands, he said. Also on Nov. 24, Leora Berman of The Land Between sounded the alarm bell at Environment Haliburton’s AGM. She said the bill puts wetlands at risk. In the Highlands, with its fractured bedrock, Berman said the wetlands are our environmental kidneys. They ensure our drinking water and water supply in general is healthy.
The now endorsed regulations change the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System. Berman has interpreted that to mean less consideration for endangered species and the delisting of some provincially-significant wetlands since they won’t qualify now.
She thinks as a result there will be few if any designations in future. She is also concerned that the Act takes the onus away from the recognized experts at the Ministry of Natural Resources, and instead puts responsibility on the backs of municipalities that may not have that expertise.
There is no doubt that citizens’ rights have been removed, with lessened requirements for developers and councils to notify the public about proposals in their communities.
Further, the premier and minister can usurp local authority, creating biased and closed markets. On the flip side, Haliburton County director of planning Steve Stone told council at its last meeting that Highlands’ growth had doubled what was predicted. There is a dearth of shovel-ready land for newcomers. He is not against Bill 23 per se, and is cognizant of the need to strike a balance between development and the environment.
And that is where the rubber will hit the road. As a community, we have to ask ourselves do we favour development at any cost? I think the answer has been, and will continue to be, a resounding no. But striking that balance won’t be easy.
We are already seeing that with the division over the Harburn Holdings development on the shores of Grass Lake. Stone said something that stood out for me – “We should be looking at, is it good for the community? If so, let’s find a way of getting it approved.”
But ‘is it good for the community?’ is subjective because some will say a certain development is, and others will say it is not. This is where our current councillors have to talk to their constituents to determine what that development vision looks like for our County.
We must determine what development is good for Haliburton County.