Efforts by the Ontario government to get more housing built across the province are being met with mixed reactions.
On April 6, 2023, the provincial government released a proposed new Provincial Planning Statement (PPS) which integrates the previous Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) for land use planning with the separate A Place to Grow policy for the so-called Golden Horseshoe area around Toronto and Hamilton. Also, on April 6, 2023, Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act was introduced in the legislature which proposes a series of amendments to the Planning Act. The changes are part of the Province’s Housing Supply Action Plan which aims to have 1.5 million new homes constructed across Ontario by 2031.
At the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday, May 10, UCPR Director of Planning and Forestry Louis Prévost said the new PPS could create the potential for thousands of new residential homes to be built in agricultural areas. However, those areas are not necessarily zoned for agriculture.
“This is a bad idea. It’s contrary to what we’ve been doing all along, which is to protect agricultural land,” Prévost said.
Related legislation, Bill 23, the Build More Homes Faster Act, allows immediate amendments to municipal Official Plans and Zoning By-Laws. Public meetings for Plans of Subdivision are no longer required and it prevents third party Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) appeals on Consent and Minor Variance applications.
“I think everybody agreed Bill 23 wasn’t the best idea,” commented Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux.
Prévost said the new PPS means only lands designed for industrial use under the Official Plan will allow for employment use. Previously, lands with designated as rural allowed development for employment purposes.
East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby said there are parts of that township which will never be used for agriculture while 80 per cent of the township already is agricultural. He would like those unused agricultural lands to be designated as rural for potential tax revenue.
Riopel commented how a lot of people moved to rural areas wanting more space during the pandemic and described it as a complicated situation.
Prevost remarked there is a potential for rural residents to complain about nearby agricultural practices, particularly smells and noises.
“I disagree. I milk 200 cows with houses all around and I’ve never had any complaints,” responded Kirby.
UCPR council approved submitting a report to the Ontario government expressing objections to the new PPS involving development on agricultural land.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s three main farm organizations have united in their opposition to the new PPS.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, National Farmers Union-Ontario (NFU-O), the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO), and various commodity organizations are urging farmers to tell their Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark that they oppose Bill 97, the new PPS, and recommend the government abandon its proposal to allow for the severing of farmland parcels for residential development.
The commodity organizations which have joined the OFA, NFU-O, and CFFO in opposition of Bill 97 and the new PPS are the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Egg Farmers of Ontario, Beef Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Pork, Chicken Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission, Turkey Farmers of Ontario, Veal Farmers of Ontario, and the Ontario Farmland Trust.
Sonia Dignard, who is the OFA Member Representative for Glengarry, Stormont, Prescott, and Russell counties, said she has not heard too many opinions on the planning changes from OFA members in the four counties. The opinions she has heard vary.
“Most are against the proposed changes, but I’ve heard from a few that they’re ok with some changes when it relates to the lot severances. Maybe one or two lots would be ok but three would be too many,” Dignard said.
Glengarry-Prescott and Russell MPP Stéphane Sarrazin said any comments he receives about planning policy changes are forwarded to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Sarrazin said he has discussed the changes with some residents but had not heard specific complaints. He emphasized it is a matter of explaining the changes to the public.
“Everything we do is to get more housing,” Sarrazin said.
He said the changes the government is making are a response to what the public has told the government.
“We can’t expect something different if we keep the status quo,” remarked Sarrazin.
“Agricultural land is still protected,” he emphasized.
Sarrazin said the legislative changes will make it easier for lot severances for members of the same family to keep living on their farms and encourage farm succession.