Dear SOGS Members and our Western Community:
Following the SOGS Climate Emergency Declaration, the Society of Graduate Students stands against Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 introduced by the Ontario provincial government on October 25. We recognize that the single greatest cause of biodiversity decline is the conversion of habitat to development in Ontario and globally. On the surface, the omnibus Bill 23 appears to address Ontario’s housing crisis by removing processes that result in some development taking longer. In reality, Bill 23 significantly limits the role of Ontario’s conservation authorities, municipal governments, and the public in reviewing and approving new developments that risk negative impacts to habitat, biodiversity, farmland and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The purpose of this statement is to share information with SOGS membership about relevant changes proposed in Bill 23 and to raise awareness of ongoing public consultations where comments can be submitted online (see below).
Ontario is facing a serious shortage of new housing, but let there be no mistake: creating more affordable housing does not require destruction of irreplaceable farmland and habitats in the greenbelt, sprawl beyond urban growth boundaries, or eliminating processes that incorporate environmental oversight and climate change forecasting into growth planning.
New students arriving in London to study at Western may have trouble finding an affordable place to live. Many social problems facing our communities, such as rising rates of homelessness, addictions, and petty crime, are interconnected with this lack of available affordable housing. More housing, specifically medium and high-density, affordable units built upwards inside of existing urban areas, and not on the edge of the city, are required to meet housing needs of students and vulnerable populations. At the same time, it is imperative that governments continue to prioritize conservation of farmland and natural resources and maintain public and expert consultation processes supporting new development approvals.
Conservation authorities and environmental protections are not barriers to growth. Rather, conservation authorities are essential partners for balancing development pressure with protections of Ontario’s watersheds and natural heritage. Conservation authorities provide technical advice to municipal governments to support reviews of development plans. Bill 23 proposes capping funding to conservation authorities, opening up all conservation authority lands for development, and limiting the scope of feedback provided by conservation authorities to flooding and natural hazard mitigation. Furthermore, Bill 23 proposes allowing the provincial government to override municipal governments’ decision-making authority over development approvals. Municipal governments will no longer be allowed to implement green standards in site plan control to require new buildings to be designed sustainably, meaning municipalities like the City of London will be limited in how they can manage growth while meeting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set out in climate change plans. Bill 23 proposes amending the Land Tribunal Act to remove the right of individuals or bodies in Ontario to appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal about reviewing planned development.
Expert reviews of Bill 23 suggest that the proposed changes will result in environmental disasters, leading to fast-tracked developments in areas at risk of severe flooding. This will ultimately result in a high cost for municipal governments and taxpayers left to cover expensive maintenance associated with sprawling development as well as future disaster mitigation. The current provincial government has already made numerous legislative changes to erode environmental protections and recently proposed additional changes that would weaken the evaluation and conservation of wetlands while offloading responsibility to municipalities, many of which will lack resources provided by conservation authorities. Meanwhile, the government is failing to fulfill its obligations to reduce carbon emissions, curb plastic pollution, and conserve Species at Risk of extinction in Ontario. These changes, and lack of government accountability for protecting the environment, are occurring with little public awareness or engagement.
We call on our representatives in the provincial government and the Western community to speak up against Bill 23 and to call for the government to preserve the ability of Ontario’s conservation authorities to comment on development matters concerning land conservation and environmental pollution, to not facilitate development in the greenbelt, and to allow municipal governments to implement green standards in new sustainable development.
Action: How our Western Community Can Support
- Get informed. Review summaries of ongoing changes to Ontario’s environmental protections:
- The Narwhal: Doug Ford to gut Ontario’s conservation authorities, citing stalled housing
- Media Release from Conservation Ontario responding to Bill 23
- CBC London: Upper Thames River Conservation Authority has concerns about province’s plans to speed development
- Ontario Nature: Ministry Zoning Orders
- Statement from the Association of Ontario Municipalities
- Office of the Auditor General of Ontario: Protecting and Recovering Species at Risk
- Office of the Auditor General of Ontario: Report on Social and Affordable Housing
- The public can sign petitions and submit comments on Bill 23 and proposed changes to legislation. Consultation links and petitions are compiled here.
- Write to your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and urge them to speak up against Bill 23, for reasons described in this letter and by the sources listed above.
- Educate your community. Talk about this with your peers, family, and friends. Many people are unaware of the changes that are being pushed through quickly and without media focus.
- Get involved with local community and regional organizations that work on building climate change resiliency and advocate for stronger environmental protections, such as Ontario Nature, Environmental Defense, Nature London and Climate Action London.
-The Society of Graduate Students at WesternU