Opinion: If There Ever Was A Time To Protest

By John Swartz

A group called Green Orillia is promoting a series of protests for Friday December 2 to take place at MPP Jill Dunlop’s offices in Orillia, Midland and then in Coldwater. Calling it Simcoe North Unites to Protect the Greenbelt, the Orillia and Midland rallies will happen from noon to 1 p.m. with the intent of protesters heading to Coldwater and continuing for one more hour of protesting from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

This same group promoted a protest in Orillia November 20, a day you may recall also brought the first major dump of snow to the area. According to the group 50 people still showed up to voice their concerns.

What is their concern? Simply, it’s Bill 23 the More Homes Built Faster Act. Continuing a pattern long established by conservative and republican administrations in North America, the title of the act is misleading. It could have been named Build More Homes and to Hell With All Other Considerations – Including Democracy.

The idea we need more homes is worthy, maybe. Considering many people can’t buy because prices have gone crazy (and buyers are increasingly investment corporations who then rent those homes) and rents have also shot up (the news media is awash with stories of people being forced out when the new rent bill arrives), maybe other measures will do more good to get people squared away.

The main concern many people have with the bill is not about building more homes, it’s what kind and where those homes should be built. They contend farmland and conservation areas are not the places.

The governing party constantly brays about transparency – when it concerns other parties being in power. But looking a map of where the government is targeting, it certainly seems the main objective isn’t so noble a cause as creating shelter than it is about payback.

One way they think to achieve building more homes is to limit democracy because it certainly hobbles the council you elected. They have stacked the deck against municipalities deciding for themselves how development will look, removed some local appeals, and allows for less than majority votes to carry the day in some municipalities (coming soon to a City of Orillia near you?) In the last few months this bill, Bill 28, and before that the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act (2019) also removed the ability, or placed restrictions on citizens to take the government to court over their actions. .

Sometimes transparency works in mysterious ways. Of the 15 areas affected by Bill 23, financial backers of the conservative party bought large tracts of land in 8 of them since Doug Ford became premier. One of those transactions happened in September when Michael Rice’s Green Lane Bathurst GP Inc. spent $80 million on 280 hectares of protected land upon which no development could happen – until this bill allows it. Interestingly, if the value of the land, which last changed hands in 2000 for just under $10 million, appreciated at 10% annually one would expect the price to have been in the $20 million neighbourhood. Why on earth would Rice pay such a premium? It’s almost like he knows something we don’t.

It’s the same with the proposed Highway 413, which just happens to run through a portion of farmland bought up in recent years by developers who coincidentally spent lots of money to help re-elect the conservatives.

This week a report showed the government altered the recommendation of its own MTO planning department, dumping 6 highway projects and moving on 4 projects with much lower priority. The Bradford Bypass and the 413 were also not on MTO high priority lists.

In this respect transparency is up because we can see what is happening, no one is hiding it, anymore. If only we could all be developers, maybe our voices would count.

Yeah, yeah, you say. That’s all about the GTA and other places in Ontario and doesn’t affect us. Hold on to that notion.

A good portion of the affected land is on the Oak Ridges Moraine. You know what moraines do? They filter ground water. That moraine is partially in Simcoe County. You could probably throw a rock from where you are right now and it will land on the moraine. A good number of people you likely know get their well water from the moraine. It’s not just about drinking and bathing wither, a good percentage of our local food production depends on what water Nestle doesn’t take for pennies on the barrel.

Look around your grocery store. A lot of the produce is imported from the American Southwest. You have heard about their water troubles, haven’t you? Aside from the greed evidenced in grocery prices, don’t you think water shortages there are part of the rising prices? So logically, the thing to do is build on the moraine and the prime farmland within close distance to us, right?

OK, that’s pretty intangible, I get it. Here’s one more, the water shortage isn’t happening just in parts of North America, it’s world-wide. People who forecast and plan our defence needs have been warning for years we are vulnerable from immigration and even invasion because we have water others don’t (several American states have made attempts to run pipelines from the Great Lakes to their sand patches for irrigation, unsuccessfully so far, but when they just decide to take it our water tables, the moraine, will fall too. There goes your cheap, safe water.

Yeah, but that’s not today and besides, they wouldn’t just take it. Want to bet? We will in the coming decades lose sovereignty over our water, and maybe if we protect what we have now, the dregs left for us will be of better quality.

But still, you say. OK, let’s talk about you bank balance then.  If there is one thing property taxpayers never stop complaining about it’s how much property taxes are in Orillia. Never mind ours are proportionally in the lower half of municipalities in Ontario, but let’s run with it.

This week the staff of the City of Markham told their council the development fees from affordable housing Bill 23 takes away will cost their taxpayers 80% more to make up the difference. Ford is shifting the responsibility and cost of providing new infrastructure to all those nifty new and likely to be single family homes onto you. Development charges pay for bigger water pipes (both ways), new roads and sidewalks, more fire protection services, new parks, new bus routes, extra strain on all municipal services – the things that come with bigger populations like as forecast for Orillia.

The Ontario Municipal Association contends $1 billion of municipal costs now paid for by developers will be transferred to property taxpayers. The Ontario Big City Mayors group also wrote expressing the same concern and to have the public comment period extended. Municipal affairs and housing minister Steve Clark said thanks for writing, and by the way we gave you COVID money, you should be good.

For the sake of keeping this complex subject kind of short, the big question is who is able to buy these homes? Beuller? Anybody? We have been building homes at a good clip the last ten years, more than 800,000 according to Statista and yet many people can’t afford them.

SUNonline/Orillia’s position isn’t about politics. It wouldn’t matter which party sloshed this bill together we don’t see much practicality or pragmatic thought involved, particularly in terms of environment protection. If there ever was a time to show up and make your voice heard this is it. Well, maybe something could be said about the breakdown of our healthcare system too, but the point is this legislation creates more problems than it tries to solve, and the aim of building 1.5 million new homes in ten years hasn’t been independently shown to solve the housing problem.

(Image Supplied)


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