Push for new probe into urban sprawl in Hamilton, Niagara and other municipalities


Published September 29, 2023 at 4:44 pm

The Ontario NDP, including MPPs from Hamilton and Niagara, are asking the auditor general to investigate whether the Doug Ford government “inappropriately” favoured speculator insiders with the urban boundary expansion and minister’s zoning orders.

Used at times to fast-track projects, a minister’s zoning order is a special mechanism allowing the province to override municipalities on development.

The letter was signed by Sandy Shaw, MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, NDP Leader Marit Stiles and MPP of Davenport and Jeff Burch, MPP of Niagara Centre. Shaw posted the letter today (Sept. 29) on X, formerly Twitter. The letter was addressed to Nick Stavropoulos, acting auditor general of Ontario and Tyler Schultz, assistant auditor general and commissioner of the environment.

In the letter, they asked the auditor general’s office to conduct an audit and assessments of the “financial and environmental impacts of the government’s amendments to municipal official plans, its issuance of Minister’s Zoning Orders and ministerial orders” under the Planning Act, as well as other land use planning decisions affecting specific properties.

“In the wake of your office’s special report on the Greenbelt and the Integrity Commissioner’s report, we believe it is necessary to investigate the overall integrity of the land use planning system, and site-specific ministerial decisions in particular,” the letter stated.

The letter requesting an audit comes as the auditor general of Ontario’s report revealed certain developers received preferential treatment in choosing lands to be removed from the Greenbelt and Ontario Premier Doug Ford fully reversed his removal of Greenbelt lands.

“Unfortunately, there is evidence of similar preferential treatment with respect to other site-specific land use planning decisions as well,” the NDP wrote.

NDP asks auditor general to assess whether Ontario’s decisions met ethical standards

The NDP is asking the auditor general to determine whether the Ontario government’s decisions “were evidence-based and consistent with provincial plans, policies and statutes.”

“We also ask that you investigate whether the decision-making process adhered to standards of conduct expected of officials in a position of public trust, including standards concerning conflicts of interest and preferential treatment,” the three politicians wrote.  “Finally, we also ask that you determine how much wealth was transferred to affected property owners as a result of such decisions, and whether this transfer was in the public interest.”

According to the NDP, the Integrity Commissioner’s Aug. 30, 2023 report revealed that certain developers or lobbyists with special access to officials in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing “inappropriately influenced decisions concerning the ministry’s reviews of municipal official plans, and were able to further their private interests as a result.”

The NDP said the ministerial changes to Official Plans, a policy document guiding development in communities, including mandated urban boundary expansions, often conflicted with provincial policy and the recommendations of professional staff planners in municipalities such as Hamilton, Ottawa, Waterloo, York, Peel, Niagara, Peterborough, Halton and Wellington.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra said this week in the legislature that the City still “remains in control of the process” for urban boundaries that are expanded.

“The city will determine when homes or if homes will be built in that expanded area,” he said. “The city determines if the land will be serviced and when it will be serviced. So that is the reality of the expanded urban boundary.”

He called the province’s critics “the legion of doom and gloom.” “Neither one of them want to work on behalf of the people of the province of Ontario,” he said. “But I tell you what, we are going to continue to do our job for all of the people of the province of Ontario because people deserve to get out of their parents’ basement and living in homes.”

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