Recently leaked internal documents reveal that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives were cognizant that their decision to revise the urban boundaries of six municipalities would stir controversy, specifically around the lack of engagement with Indigenous communities and third-party entities.
A mysterious source inside the government furnished these documents, including a memo dated April 2023, to the official opposition. NDP Leader Marit Stiles announced on a Wednesday morning press briefing: “This internal government briefing note shows the government knew its decisions to single-handedly expand urban boundaries–ending the preservation of green spaces and farmlands–were incorrect. These decisions were largely influenced by speculators rather than authentic evidence.”
Additionally, the boundary alterations of numerous urban sites were made without the appraisal of municipal staff. In December 2022, the Ontario government proposed altering the official city plans of Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Peterborough, Waterloo, and Wellington County.
These boundary changes, the government claimed, would render over 3,700 hectares of land open for development leading up to 2051. The controversial document sheds light on potential issues local communities and the media may raise and suggests how the government could effectively respond.
All the cities across the board share the common narrative of the proposed modifications being made without consulting Indigenous communities. Furthermore, the 30-day window of engagement raises eyebrows as being too brief. Despite potential pushbacks, the provincial government justifies these boundary alterations in line with their 2018 election campaign promises — constructing 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
The document goes further to explain, “The minister took the necessary action to accommodate such significant growth and provide for more desperately needed housing.”
While some municipal politicians approved these changes either completely or partially, the opposition party described it as a deliberate attempt by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives to enforce uncontrolled development or ‘sprawl’, on communities.
The province’s new Housing Minister, Paul Calandra, contested the allegations, stating that the government worked persistently in liaison with municipal partners. However, his comments sidestepped specific queries about the contentious memo. He asserted “We’ve made it very clear to all of our municipal partners that we are committed to building 1.5 million homes across the province of Ontario. It is our driving force since our electoral victory in 2018.”
Following these revelations, the NDP has sought the province’s auditor general to examine the extension of municipal boundaries, citing concerns over favoritism towards specific developers.
While controversy ensues over these boundary changes for Waterloo, Wellington County, Guelph, Barrie, Belleville, and Peterborough, the government has similarly made alterations to the municipal official plans for Hamilton, Ottawa, York, Peel, Niagara, and Halton.