Urban boundary reversal ‘big victory’ for Hamilton, Mayor says

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Published October 24, 2023 at 11:26 am

Horwath

Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath is celebrating the Ontario government’s decision to reverse course on its changes to the city’s urban boundary.

Previous Housing Minister Steve Clark ordered changes to the urban boundaries of six communities: Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa and Peterborough. At the time, Clark said the move was to encourage housing construction.

Critics, however, felt the move endangered both ecologically sensitive lands and prime farmlands. Hamilton MPP Sandy Shaw described Clark’s plan as an attempt to “pave paradise, put up a parking lot.” This plan would have extended the city’s boundary by 2,200 hectares.

Clark’s tenure as Housing Minister, which began in 2018, ended a short time later. He resigned after a damning integrity commissioner report found he had failed to properly supervise his staff as they chose lands to remove from the Greenbelt. Clark’s Chief of Staff Ryan Amato was found to have favoured certain developers in a hasty and questionable process to remove 2,994 hectares, including in Hamilton.

The Greenbelt land swap, which benefited developers to the tune of $18 billion, was separate from the urban boundary expansion. However, both decisions formed part of the Ontario government’s plan to build more homes. The integrity commissioner report found there is already plenty of land available for development to meet the government’s construction goals.

The RCMP has since launched a criminal corruption investigation into the Greenbelt swap. Likewise, critics, such as Hamilton Ward One Councillor Maureen Wilson, are calling on the RCMP to investigate the urban boundary expansions.

Following Clark’s resignation, Premier Doug Ford tapped Paul Calandra to take over the housing portfolio. Calandra serves as Ford’s pinch hitter, having previously taken over the Ministry of Long-term Care after the resignation of Ajax MPP Rod Phillips after it was revealed he went on vacation during one of several COVID-19 lockdowns.

Since taking over the housing ministry, Calandra “made it a priority to review past decisions to ensure that they support our goal of building at least 1.5 million homes and to ensure that the decisions that we made were done in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust,” he said. This review led to the return of all lands Clark’s office removed from the Greenbelt.

It also “includes decisions on minister zoning orders and official plans,” Calandra continued, “Now, when reviewing how decisions were made regarding official plans, it is clear that they failed to meet this test.” He has reversed course and cancelled the expansion.

The move was celebrated in some corners, including Horwath’s office, “This is a big victory for our city and the protection of farmland,” she wrote, “The people of Hamilton fought hard against the changes to our urban boundary, and I am so happy the government listened to our council and our residents and decided to reverse course.”

“I have always been clear with our provincial partners that Hamilton can meet our housing commitments without any changes to our boundaries and without opening the Greenbelt,” she continued.

Hamilton has committed to building 47,000 homes by 2031, at the Ontario government’s insistence. Reports indicate there is room in the city for more than twice that many, 110,000 in fact, without touching the city’s boundaries or the Greenbelt.

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