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Auditor General criticizes Ontario land-use policies

Auditor General criticizes Ontario land-use policies

The annual report of the Auditor-General of Ontario is the gift that keeps on giving for reporters. Initially media focus was on the hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID relief to small businesses going to ineligible recipients, while there was no help for others that needed it. Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk also took aim at the Province’s initial scramble for PPE at the beginning of the pandemic writing, “ If the province had paid attention to a plan developed in 2006, Ontario would have initially had enough personal protective equipment when COVID-19 arrived 14 years later.”

Hamilton one of only four municipalities in Ontario that will hit its density targets

Of interest to Hamiltonians in the wake of the urban boundary debate, are Lysyk’s comments on the state of land-use planning in Ontario. She says that of the 25 urban growth areas designated by the province, only four will meet the target–and somewhat surprisingly, given all the recent concern expressed about sprawl one of them is Downtown Hamilton. Downtown Toronto, Downtown Mississauga, and Uptown Waterloo were the other three on pace to meet their density targets by 2031—the first year that municipalities are expected to meet their density targets for downtown areas.

Province doesn’t know if cities are reaching targets and whether sufficient housing will be available to accommodate growth

She found that the Ministry is not collecting the necessary information to accurately measure whether municipalities are achieving density targets in the developed portions of the designated greenfield areas, The Ministry also does not have information about long-term housing supply to assess whether municipalities are maintaining enough residential housing supply to support population growth for at least three years—a requirement introduced in the 2017 amendment to the Growth Plan.

Too many changes in policy

She also said the number of changes made by the province in land-use policies over the last 10 years, often occurring within a year of a previous change, have made it challenging for GGH municipalities to ensure their planning documents are up to-date and conform with such policies.

Provincial staff lack experience and knowledge to provide guidance

Seven out of ten city planners who asked for guidance have not received sufficient guidance or direction from Ministry staff whenever they asked for help or clarification. A 2018 Ministry survey of municipal land-use planners, found municipalities had serious  concerns about Ministry staff knowledge and the quality of Ministry staff responses to questions. Many respondents reported that Ministry staff were often unable to explain key provincial policies such as the Growth Plan, the Provincial Policy Statement and legislative and policy changes.

Our review of Ministry staffing found that two thirds…had been in their positions for two years or less…

“Our review of Ministry staffing data found that nearly two-thirds of the 43 staff responsible for liaising with municipalities had been in their positions for two years or less. In the 2019 and 2021 Employee Engagement Surveys of all Ministry staff in the central region, only 35% of respondents in 2019 and 50% of respondents in 2021 felt that they had a clear understanding of their job and what was expected of them,” the report continued.

Highways and MZO’s

The report also criticized the province’s plan to push ahead with Highway 413, writing that the move “appeared to be disconnected from, or inconsistent with, land-use planning policies.” The report also criticized the proliferation of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZO’s) which “are being used to fast-track development and circumvent normal planning processes.” The report added that the inconsistent application of MZO’s has led to perceptions of cronyism.

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