Planning for Growth in Ontario
Last month, the Ontario Growth Secretariat of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing hosted a Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Planning Stakeholder Forum. The meeting brought together over 200 representatives of organizations with an interest in managing growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario was represented at one of dozens of tables tasked with providing concrete solutions to the challenges related to implementing the Growth Plan.
At our table was Deputy Minister Laurie LeBlanc; David Crombie, who was representing the Greenbelt Council; urban developers; staff from both the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing; and, representatives from the Six Nations Council, Metrolinx and Niagara Region. This diverse mix represented the breadth of participants, which enriched contributions from the tables.
The Honourable Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, addressed the delegates, emphasizing that the focus for the day was to be on two aspects of implementation:
The first aspect of implementation for the day’s discussions was to be on “how to find workable solutions to the concerns that have been expressed to date” about the nuts and bolts of implementing the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan in the following five categories:
- planning for employment (including mechanisms for how municipalities might change the status of currently defined “employment areas”),
- Agricultural and Natural Heritage Systems and mapping,
- major transit station areas,
- intensification and density targets, and
- settlement area boundary expansions.
The second aspect of implementation for the day’s discussion was to be on “how to implement the Growth Plan so as to comply with the following new government priorities”:
- increasing housing supply,
- creating jobs,
- reducing red tape,
- attracting economic investments, and
- building strategic partnerships to “make life better for the people of Ontario.”
Important advice voiced by participants was for strong provincial oversight of planning so that there can be better coordinated growth across the whole of the province and not just the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Participants called for consistency across municipalities while also recognizing the need for flexibility regarding local conditions and local goals. Participants also recommended planning that supports “complete” communities with the full range of services, age groups, ethnicities and all aspects of diversities that enrich living spaces.
Missing from the agenda for the day was how provincial planning for growth, combined with municipal planning, can be balanced with stewarding of our natural resources. The Ministry emphasis seemed to be on the minute details of implementation of the Plan with a singular emphasis on the conditions for planning for business and employment priorities. The Ministry emphasis was not on the other two pillars of sustainable development – environmental health and overall societal wellbeing.
These planning gaps were noted loud and clear by invited stakeholders during the final sharing of recommendations. There were calls to revisit ways to better integrate economic goals with environmental health and overall societal wellbeing in the Growth Plan. CFFO, for example, expressed concern about farmland protection given persistent urban sprawl, soil health degradation and threats to water quality.
Stakeholders clearly called for strong provincial leadership for regional and municipal growth that respects not only current community needs within the Greater Golden Horseshoe but that also incorporates regions outside the Greater Golden Horseshoe and explicitly cares for the wellbeing of future generations. What remains to be seen is whether the wealth of this day’s recommendations could be, or would be, accepted and implemented.