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Leaked memo shows lack of consultation and third-party involvement in Ontario urban boundary changes


The Ontario Progressive Conservatives knew they may be blasted about a lack of Indigenous consultation and third-party involvement when they decided to alter the urban boundaries of six municipalities, according to internal documents leaked by the NDP.

The memo dated April 2023 was provided to the media by the official opposition on Wednesday. NDP Leader Marit Stiles said it was provided to them by “somebody inside the government.”

It has not been independently confirmed by CTV News Toronto.

The documents outline the effects of the boundary modifications, as well as possible contentious issues and mitigation tactics.

“It's an internal government briefing note that shows the government knew its decisions to unilaterally expand urban boundaries to pave over green space and farmland were wrong, that they were based on input from speculators and not evidence,” Stiles said on Wednesday morning.

“It explains that the changes to many of these urban boundaries were not assessed by municipal staff.”

In December 2022, the government proposed amendments to the official city plans of six municipalities—Waterloo, Wellington County, Guelph, Barrie, Belleville and Peterborough.

In the memo, the government said the changes would make over 3,700 hectares of land available for development to the year 2051.

The document then goes through each municipality and outlines potential issues that may be brought up by local communities and the media—as well as how government officials should respond.

For the Region of Waterloo, for example, the government notes 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 Belleville, the ministry says there may be legal risks, although they did not specify the precise concerns.

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 province, in its key messaging, argued the changes were necessary to build 1.5 million new homes by 2031—a key promise of their 2018 election campaign. The ministry also notes that the six municipalities are expected to grow significantly in the next couple decades.

“This is why the minister took the necessary action to accommodate this significant growth and allow for more desperately needed housing to be built,” the memo says.

Some municipal politicians, the government also notes, approved of their changes either in full or in part.

The NDP says the document is proof the Progressive Conservatives were making a “conscious attempt to force sprawl on communities.”

“They knew and it's explicit in this document that they were going against …community, against First Nations wishes, against sound planning advice,” Stiles said, adding it is still not clear what third-parties were involved in the decision-making.

Ontario’s new Housing Minister Paul Calandra has previously said that while the government may have made changes to urban boundaries, it is still up to the municipalities what is built there.

Speaking in the legislature on Wednesday, Calandra said the government is constantly working with municipal partners. He did not address specific questions about the memo.

“We've made it very clear to all of our municipal partners that we intend to build 1.5 million homes across the province of Ontario,” he said. “We haven't made that a secret. It is something that has driven us since 2018.”

The NDP has already asked the province’s auditor general to investigate the expansion of some municipal boundaries, noting there may be preferential treatment given to some of the same developers that benefitted from the Greenbelt land removals.

The PCs have also altered the municipal official plans for Hamilton, Ottawa, York, Peel, Niagara and Halton. Top Stories

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