Misery loves company

When Warden Lennox catches up with the Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus, we suspect he will find he is in the company of many miserable politicians.

The generally jovial group representing counties in this part of Ontario will get to compare notes on Premier Doug Ford’s end run on the fundamentals of planning. It should be quite a list of grievances.

It is our understanding that Wellington is not alone when it comes to last-minute surprises for development lands. As we work here to delve deeper into ownership interests and land transactions it will be interesting to connect the dots of who knew what when – and who stands to profit. Shades of what occurred with the Greenbelt months back – despite Ford’s pointed promises pre-election not to tamper with that environmental freeze – appear obvious here now. The whiff of corruption emanating from Queen’s Park is inescapable. 

This perhaps explains why many people we know to be apolitical are all of a sudden marshaling interest in land use and transparent decision making. Voters who supported Ford or voted Conservative to support their local member of provincial parliament are now stuck living with that choice. The appalling overreach and top-down policy choices we are witnessing today seem part of a strategy to get the dirty work done now in time for voters to forget before the next election call.

It goes without saying that the planning community and elected councils have brought some of this upon themselves. The inability to quickly process applications, make decisions and contemplate a more holistic vision of a community describes a system that has been at odds with itself for a long time. Plodding along, coddling development opponents, reacting instead of acting – these are all mannerisms that have led to this choice by Ford and company. We don’t like it, but we get it.

There will be those who buy into this path forward. Farmers and landowners standing to make a king’s ransom when selling their land, developers able to quickly bring homes online and business-people who love a buck over longer-term interests will appreciate this easing of red tape and due process. But, where does that land us as communities?

As it stands, the financial implications for municipalities are perilous with this free-for-all approach. A longstanding maxim that development should pay its way seems up in the air now, meaning shortfalls will land on the doorstep of taxpayers. Any mistakes made when drafting agreements will burden residents for decades to come.

Recent newscasts suggest rules around building in sensitive areas like floodplains or watercourses are being relaxed, which we find extremely alarming. Authorities were established decades ago to protect municipalities and homeowners alike from the perils of nature by noting floodplains and sensitive areas from which water is drawn. All of that work appears to be in vain, dismissed by a pen stroke because Ford has an agenda for housing and business that does not gel with following fundamental planning principles, which seem to be an inconvenience to him.

Stay tuned – this story isn’t over.