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Ford government reverses changes to urban boundaries of multiple Ontario municipalities

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The Doug Ford government is reversing plans to change the urban boundaries of multiple Ontario municipalities after finding the decisions were not made “in a manner that maintains and reinforces public trust.”

New Housing Minister Paul Calandra made the announcement at Queen’s Park on Monday morning.

“The process was one that I was just not comfortable with,” Calandra told reporters. “I think there was just a little bit too much involvement from individuals within the previous minister's office on the official plans in these areas.”

As such, Calandra said that legislation will soon be tabled that would reverse official plans to change the boundaries of Barrie, Bellevile, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, and the regions of Halton, Niagara, Peel and Wellington County.

The minister added there will be exceptions in “circumstances where construction has started or where doing so would contravene existing provincial legislation and regulation.”

“We want to make sure that the reset plans match our shared ambitions to build more homes, especially now that these municipalities have made their housing pledges,” he said.

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

This is the second time the government has reversed a major policy decision over the last month.

Following significant backlash and two scathing reports by the province’s auditor general and integrity commissioner, the government reversed its decision to remove 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt.

The reports found that a lack of leadership and a deeply flawed process led to some developers being favoured when the land was divvyed up.

Then-Housing Minister Steve Clark, as well as his chief of staff, resigned in the weeks after the reports were released.

The government received similar criticism when they decided to alter the official city plans of multiple municipalities in an effort to reach its goal of building 1.5 million homes.

Multiple mayors and city staff argued the changes were not necessary to reach their individual housing targets and in some cases would have environmental and financial impacts they were not prepared for.

A memo leaked by the NDP in early October indicated the government knew there was a lack of consultation when they went forward with the urban boundary changes of six municipalities.

For the Region of Waterloo, for example, the government notes in the memo that there was “strong opposition to expansions” and that there may be concerns about land added to the boundary by third-party request that were not assessed by regional staff.

In all cases, the ministry said that modifications were not shared with Indigenous communities. It also suggests the 30-day engagement period “is likely to be viewed as insufficient.”

The New Democratic Party has requested the auditor general review the government’s decision to change urban boundaries; however it’s unclear if that investigation will go forward now that the changes have been reversed.

“This really is a reset for me as a minister to work with my municipal partners so that we can remain focused on working together,” Calandra said, adding that the province will work with cities to assist with any costs related to the change.

Two municipalities have already asked for compensation for the more than $400,000 in costs they incurred while working on the Greenbelt land removals.

With files from the Canadian Press

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