The mayor of fast-growing Milton is asking the Ontario government to reinstate all of the expansions the province added to the town’s urban boundaries, changes that the Housing Minister just pledged to cancel, saying political staff were too involved in the decisions.
Paul Calandra announced two weeks ago that he was undoing a series of unilateral rewrites his predecessor, Steve Clark, made to the official plans of several municipalities, including Halton Region. Milton, west of Toronto, is a part of Halton.
Official plans in York, Peel and Waterloo Regions, as well as in Hamilton, Niagara and Ottawa, were also among those the province revised last November and in April.
Many of the last-minute changes involved forcing municipalities to expand their urban boundaries to allow future development on thousands of hectares of farmland. Revisions were made without the normal analysis by the province’s professional planners and, in some cases, after political staff met with developers or their lobbyists.
The reversal followed Premier Doug Ford’s U-turn on his contentious move to put housing on parts of the protected Greenbelt. His government’s plan would have potentially handed billions of dollars in boosted land values to a small group of developers and is now under investigation by the RCMP.
But after announcing the climbdown on the urban boundaries, Mr. Calandra also said municipalities would have 45 days to request that he maintain any of the province’s changes.
And according to a leaked letter obtained by the advocacy group Environmental Defence, the minister has asked mayors of what are known as “lower-tier” municipalities – such as those that are part of regions like Halton – to provide him with any provincial modifications they want to keep before a Dec. 7 deadline.
In February, 2022, Halton Region’s council voted 15-9 to freeze its urban boundaries and build more densely inside existing communities, despite objections from Milton’s mayor. The province then unilaterally overrode Halton region’s plan last November and added 4,400 hectares inside its urban boundaries, earmarking the lands for future development.
Of those additional hectares, 1,700 of them are in Milton, which has seen its population grow by more than 20 per cent, from 2016 to 2021, and now has more than 132,000 residents.
Milton Mayor Gord Krantz has previously told The Globe and Mail that he went straight to the Premier and to Mr. Calandra’s predecessor, Mr. Clark, to complain about Halton Region’s decision to freeze the boundaries.
And according to a letter he sent this week to Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr, Mr. Krantz intends to ask Mr. Calandra to maintain all of the boundary expansions that the province added in Milton to Halton’s plan.
In the letter, copied to Mr. Calandra, Mr. Ford and local Progressive Conservative MPP Parm Gill, Mr. Krantz says Milton needs all of the extra land, and cannot “reasonably” accommodate the growth it expects over the next 30 years in its existing settlement area boundary. (The province had asked municipalities to produce new plans with enough land designated for development until 2051, while also loosening density rules.)
Mr. Krantz says the boundary expansions “will result in well-planned, transit-oriented communities supported by sustainable local infrastructure.” More than half the land would be designated for employment uses, such as office parks, and he says the plans were approved by council, vetted by Milton’s planners and subject to public consultations.
The letter says the changes would allow the town to “accommodate sufficient housing supply that reflects market demand and what is needed in the local community.” Neither Mr. Krantz nor Mr. Carr was made available for an interview.
Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, says Mr. Calandra’s request for small-town mayors to ask him to reinstate the province’s changes is a way for the government to quietly bring back its boundary expansions and allow for future suburban sprawl, but with political cover.
Mr. Gray said the provincial government will say “now it’s been anointed by the mayor of Milton or the mayor of any other lower-tier they manage to get onside with this, and therefore it’s all okay, even though it wasn’t in any way consistent with any of the planning rules or laws we have in the province.”
In an e-mailed statement, Alexandru Cioban, a spokesman for Mr. Calandra, did not directly address a question from The Globe about whether boundary extensions requested by lower-tier mayors would be vetted by provincial planners.
He said municipalities are in the “best position to understand the unique needs” of their communities and that they “may choose to proceed with some of the provincial changes to their plans.”