“Grow up, not out” is Oakville Mayor’s response to Province’s reversal on boundary changes

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Published October 24, 2023 at 12:31 pm

Okville aerial shot

Growing up, not out, is useful advice for both saving precious farmland from development and in the natural maturation of people.

Whether either scenario was on the mind of Ontario Premier Doug Ford when he reversed changes made last November to the urban boundaries of municipalities around Ontario – including Halton Region – or he was just trying to save his own political skin is up for debate.

Either way, the policy reversal was welcome news for Oakville Mayor Rob Burton, especially after Oakville regional councillors unanimously voted to restrict future growth to existing development areas in Halton during the Region’s official plan update process in June 2022.

The motion passed 17-7 at Halton Council with all eight Oakville councillors voting yes in what Burton called the “greatest ever” public showing in a land use planning decision.

“We heard from thousands of residents in support of this decision,” Burton said. “We decided we needed to grow up, not out, to save green space and farmland and reduce the impact of growth on the climate change emergency.”

But just five months later, as part of the Greenbelt Swap that happened at the same time as the boundary changes (a policy decision that has already cost Ford two cabinet ministers, some of their key staff members and nearly a year of political headaches) the provincial government wiped out the motion and unilaterally expanded the urban boundaries.

Housing Minister Paul Callandra, who took over the portfolio after his predecessor, Steve Clark, was forced to resign in the fallout from the Greenbelt fiasco, made the policy reversal announcement Monday, saying the decisions from last fall were not made “in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust.”

Callandra didn’t name names but put the blame for the decisions on staff in Clark’s office (Ryan Amato, Clark’s Chief of Staff, was the first to fall on his sword in the aftermath of the Auditor General’s report), saying there was “too much involvement” in the process from people “within the previous minister’s office” on official plan matters.

Those boundary exchanges applied to Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, and the regions of Niagara, Peel and Wellington, as well as Halton.

Callandra said there would be some exceptions in projects where construction has already started.

Burton said the Halton Council decision from June of last year “reinforced” a unanimous vote from 2017 to restrict development to developed areas, especially around transit zones in the Town’s Midtown neighbourhood.

The Town will be hosting a public information session Wednesday on Midtown, a 255-acre underdeveloped area surrounding the Oakville GO Station that’s set to be reimagined as a livable, connected, and mixed-use community.

The Conservative boundary change reversal follows the government’s recent decision to also backtrack on the 7,400-acre Greenbelt swap following a pair of scathing reports from both the auditor general and the province’s integrity commissioner.

In both reports the process was described as “deeply flawed.”

City planners and politicians around the GTA criticized the government last November for the boundary changes, saying they were not needed for the municipalities to reach the provincially-mandated goal of building 1.5 million new homes by 2031.

Already two municipalities – Pickering in Durham Region and Grimsby in Niagara – have announced they will be seeking some $400,000 in financial compensation from the Province for their work on the Greenbelt land removal issue.

Municipalities will have 45 days to reach out to ministry staff to identify any other amendments or changes they would like to their official plans.

 

 

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