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Friday, March 24, 2023


Ontario’s Bill 23: An Attack on Democracy and the Common Good

An invitation to a grassroots demonstration in Peterborough on November 17th. Similar events are taking place in hundreds of locations across the province.

Though a painful exercise, Bill 23 is essential reading.  It is nothing short of a frontal assault on local democracy, the role of civil society, efforts to address ecological sustainability, to protect green spaces, to grow our own food, and to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

It could transform planning and regional development efforts into a rubber stamp for anything a developer wants to do no matter how ill considered and deleterious it may be to communities and the sustainability of the environment. Much of it undermines many of the goals and directions supported by governments at all levels for much of the last forty years.

Under the guise of supporting denser development, it undermines the ability of local governments to respond to the legitimate concerns and expectations of those they are elected to serve, and denies civil society any recourse to overturn the imposed and steel fisted dictates emanating from Queen’s Park. 

It seeks to diminish the taxing and funding powers of elected governments and provides massive subsidies to highly profitable corporate interests without any commensurate responsibility for those corporate beneficiaries to meet public interest objectives with the windfall savings received. 

It is difficult to grasp how a piece of legislation that makes so little sense and undermines so many provincial planning goals has been tabled for serious consideration.  Not surprisingly, province-wide and local voices in civil society are nearly uniform in having deep reservations about this flawed and troubling piece of legislation. 

We draw your attention to three voices and their sobering assessments of the folly of this act.

First the Big Tent Initiative with its fulsome and penetrating analysis of the dozens of ways in which the proposed legislation fails any reasonable test of responsible government in a modern democracy,

Second the coalition Ontario for All with its laser focus on the risks for those working to address the lack of affordable housing for those who need it most, and

Third, a thoughtful op-ed in the Nov 14th Toronto Star by three highly respected former mayors of the City of Toronto that document their deep reservations about the impact of this legislation on local government, housing affordability, protection of the environment and respect for the role of civil society in a democracy. 

We at SocialCommons.ca are working to promote the kinds of transformative changes that will be essential to creating a future that both reduces inequality, improves human health, deepens local democracy, builds livable communities, and protects the eco-systems on which all life depends. This legislation will seriously undermine critical efforts underway in supporting each of these pillars.  

It is both about over-reach, but more importantly, it reflects abandonment of public responsibility in ensuring – affordable housing for all, maintaining farmland to build food security, ecological protection including both water systems and green areas that create reliance in the face of climate risks. Governments are elected to serve and protect people.  This legislation puts us all at greater risk. As currently constructed, it must not stand. 

Our Call to Action asks each of you to:

1. Endorse each of the three statements noted above

2. Ask that the legislation be re-framed to advance clear goals and targets related to delivering affordable housing for all income groups, protecting farmland and ecologically sensitive areas,  increasing food self-sufficiency, and building public transit

3. Ask that the legislation focus on strengthening the role of civil society organizations in holding governments at all levels to account,

4. Make affordable housing a right for all income groups, including a requirement that developers build housing affordable to all groups, or sell up to 30% of their vacant land within existing urban boundaries to community and government land trusts to build the housing people need, and

5. Create a food self-sufficiency strategy and plan for the GTA rooted in the preservation and stewardship of agricultural lands, and the protection of our water systems

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