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The Ontario government is restoring some of the changes it rescinded last year that required municipalities to earmark more farmland for development, one of several measures in a new omnibus bill that would also shorten environmental reviews for highways and public-transit lines.

The legislation, introduced on Tuesday, includes several previously announced measures, such as the waiving of the need to renew vehicle licence plates and a requirement for a referendum before any future “carbon tax.”

Tabled as MPPs returned to the legislature after a winter break, the new bill follows months of controversy for the Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford, which has been dogged by criticism of its attempt to allow tens of thousands of homes on the province’s protected Greenbelt.

Mr. Ford reversed course last fall after Ontario’s Auditor-General said the plan was directed by one senior political staffer and would have handed an $8.3-billion land-value windfall to a select group of connected developers. The RCMP is investigating the matter.

But as the government scrambled last year to deal with the Greenbelt fallout, it also rescinded a separate move to unilaterally force several large municipalities to expand their urban boundaries onto thousands of hectares of farmland. Like the Greenbelt changes, the boundary expansions were also found to have been driven by political staff, instead of professional planners in the provincial civil service. Critics had said the expanded boundaries would only drive increased suburban sprawl.

Yet Tuesday’s new bill, which the government calls the Get It Done Act in an echo of its 2022 election campaign slogan, would restore some of those changes to municipal official plans.

Paul Calandra, who took the reins as Ontario’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister last fall, had said when he announced the withdrawal of the boundary changes that local mayors could request the restoration of any top-down revisions they wished to keep. Some, including Gordon Krantz, the mayor of fast-growing Milton, west of Toronto, immediately said the extra lands were needed to accommodate growth.

The legislation proposed on Tuesday would bring back urban boundary expansions that had been stuck into Halton Region’s official plan, which includes Milton, as well as boundary changes in Peel, York and Waterloo Regions and Wellington County. But it would leave the locally approved urban boundaries in Hamilton and Ottawa, where the province’s forced expansions were especially controversial, untouched.

Mr. Calandra told reporters on Tuesday that the restoration of the changes followed talks with the municipalities involved. He said Hamilton and Ottawa would be accountable for meeting the province’s housing targets “within the existing boundaries.”

Tim Gray, executive director of advocacy group Environmental Defence, said restoring the incursions into farmland would favour sprawl and “big monster homes” instead of driving denser development within established communities.

The omnibus bill includes other provisions the government announced last week, including long-awaited changes it first pledged in 2020 to the environmental assessment process for major projects.

Large landfills and power stations would still be subject to a full environmental assessment process, which can take years. But highways, rail lines and power-transmission lines will fall under what the government calls a “streamlined” review process that it says could shave four years off timelines but will still maintain “environmental safeguards.”

The new legislation also includes a pledge announced last week to require referendum before any new “carbon tax” or carbon-pricing “cap and trade” scheme. Ontario already has legislation requiring a referendum before any new tax, but previous PC and Liberal governments have simply passed amendments to get out of it.

Tuesday’s bill also includes ban on tolling future highways, first touted last week. But it would leave the tolls now in place on both the privately-operated Highway 407 and the publicly-run stretch of the eastern 407. The government pulled tolls off two highway in Durham Region, east of Toronto, just before 2022 election.

Mr. Ford has used the prospect of a referendum on a provincial carbon levy as an attack against new Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie, whom he accuses of planning to bring in such a policy if her party won power.

Ms. Crombie on Tuesday accused Mr. Ford of attempting to distract the public from his government’s own scandals, calling his referendum proposal a “stunt.” But she would not answer repeated questions when asked whether she supports carbon pricing, saying her party would come up with a climate change plan before the next election in 2026.

The former mayor of Mississauga does not have a seat yet in the provincial legislature. She said she is strongly considering running in the riding of Milton after PC MPP Parm Gill quit the Toronto-area seat last month to run for the federal Conservatives, though a by-election has yet to be called.

With a report from Laura Stone

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