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Re: Comments re: ERO number019-6163 – Proposed Planning Act and City of Toronto Act Changes (Schedules 9 and 1 of Bill 23 – the proposed More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022)

December 8, 2022


From: Mark Winfield, Ph.D., Professor, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change York University (

Re: Comments re: ERO number019-6163 - Proposed Planning Act and City of Toronto Act Changes (Schedules 9 and 1 of Bill 23 - the proposed More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022)



I am writing to you regarding the above reference notice and posting on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry. I note that the posted legislation has now received Royal Assent, but as the public comment period remains open I make the following comments for the record and hope that they may have some impact on the implementation of Bill 23.

I am writing in my capacity as a Professor of Environmental and Urban Change at York University. I have been involved in planning and development matters in Ontario for many years, beginning with the work of the Commission on Planning and Development (a.k.a. the Sewell Commission) in the earlier 1990s. I was involved extensively in the development of the 2005-06 reforms to the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement, as well as the development of the GTHA Greenbelt and Places to Grow Plans. I later served on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the Implementation of the Places to Grow Plan.

I have written extensively on environmental and planning matters in Ontario, including Blue-Green Province: The Environment and Political Economy of Ontario (UBC Press 2012), and the environment chapter of successive editions of the Government and Politics of Ontario (UTP 2016, and 2023 forthcoming). I testified as an expert witness at the Walkerton Inquiry on the province’s environmental and planning policies affecting drinking water sources and safety, including the role of Conservation Authorities.

I have commented publicly on the province’s approach to planning and development matters, particularly over the past two years. I have been increasingly concerned by the province’s directions in this area. These seem grounded in fundamental misunderstandings of the drivers and nature of the housing ‘crisis’ which as affected the GHTA region, leading to policy responses, including Bill 23, which seem almost certain to make the situation worse, particularly in terms of housing affordability for those at the lower end of the income scale. The province’s approach, as reflected in various sections Bill 23, also seems likely to undermine the capacity of local governments and Conservation authorities to respond to other serious challenges facing the region, most notably the increasingly apparent impacts of a changing climate.

My overall comments on the directions reflected in Bill 23 are available here. I also contributed to the development of the commentary by the newly formed Alliance for a Livable Ontario on Bill 23 and the province’s related initiatives, particularly with respect to the Greenbelt, Duffins-Rouge Agricultural Reserve, and involuntary urban expansions available here. I am a signatory to that document and endorse its conclusions.

The short period of time provided for public comments mean that I will focus my specific comments on the elements of Bill 23 related to “Major Transit Station Areas,” as these have received relatively little detailed attention so far, as well as the aspects of the bill related to the roles of Conservation Authorities.

Major Transit Station Areas

These elements of the Bill would require municipalities to implement “as-of-right” zoning for transit-supportive densities in specified areas around transit stations, known as “major transit station areas” (MTSAs), and “protected major transit station areas” (PMTSAs) that have been approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

The changes would require municipalities to update their zoning by-laws to permit transit-supportive densities as-of-right within 1 year of MTSA or PMTSA approval; if zoning updates were not undertaken within the 1-year period, the usual protection from appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal for PMTSAs would not apply.

Based on what has been experienced in Midtown Toronto through the rewriting of OPA 405 (a.k.a. Midtown in Focus) and the ministerial orders made in relation to the ‘Bridge’ and ‘High-Tech’ transit sites Richmond Hill and Markham, the MTSAs seem likely to be development 'free for all' zones where planning is effectively delegated to the development industry. If this is the case, the concept would be extremely problematic for a number of reasons.

The Midtown Toronto experience appears to have been the archetype for the treatment of MTSAs.  There, the province re-wrote the city's Midtown in Focus plan. The plan had been developed in conjunction with the community to deliver densities far above those required by the GGH Growth Plan, but with a strong emphasis on affordability, the mixing of uses, and good urban design. Those elements were removed by the province, at the behest of development interests, along with height limitations, in 2019.

The result offers a case study in how intensification should not happen. The development that is now proceeding is almost exclusively high-rise, largely investor-owned, condominium development, with significant displacements of existing affordable rental housing in the process. The new developments have been of little use as housing for families, being largely studios and 1 bedrooms, and infrastructures of all types (physical, educational, social) are being overwhelmed.

Given the lack of mix of uses in the new developments - indeed there are strong development industry pressures for conversions of existing office buildings to residential uses - the stresses on transportation infrastructures, particularly the Yonge subway, are becoming particularly acute. The area has become less and less a mixed-use 'complete' community and more a vertical bedroom one, housing commuters who work or go to school somewhere else.

The result is the opposite of what good planning should deliver in terms of functionality, affordability, liveability and sustainability. Areas around transit stations should be mixed use complete communities as per the vision for urban growth centres in the original Growth Plan, functioning as housing, employment, educational, cultural and institutional destinations in their own right. There are good examples of such developments in the region, notably, the Yonge-Sheppard to Finch corridor in North York.

However, producing those kinds of outcomes requires careful planning and substantial consultation with the affected communities.  Declarations of 'anything goes’ zones to the development industry are simply invitations to recreate the mistakes that have been made in Midtown Toronto, while further enriching development interests. The MTSA provisions of Bill 23 should not be implemented for these reasons, and the province’s approach to development related to major transit stations fundamentally reconsidered.

Bill 23 and the Role of Conservation Authorities

I have reviewed the Canadian Environmental Law Association’s (CELA) comments on the provisions of Schedules 2, 7 and 9 of Bill 23, and agree strongly with their conclusions.

Conservation authorities (CA’s) work on a watershed basis, across municipal boundaries. In the context of a changing climate, their functions have taken on additional importance in the management of the impacts of extreme weather events, particularly flooding and other hazards. They also play a major role in protecting ecosystem features and functions within their areas.

I concur with CELA’s recommendations that Schedule 2 to Bill 23 be amended by removing those sections that would restrict a conservation authority’s comments on development and planning applications, as well as those sections of Schedule 2 providing for delegation of natural hazards review to municipalities.

Further the sections of Schedule 2 that remove the ability of conservation authorities to consider factors related to the conservation of land and prevention of pollution in their permit decisions under the Conservation Authorities Act be deleted. I strongly recommend against the use of conservation authority lands that have been secured and safeguarded for environmental and natural hazard protection reasons for housing purposes.

With respect to Schedule 9, those sections, which remove upper-tier municipal planning responsibilities should be deleted, as well as any limitations of conservation authority comment/appeal rights).


Taken as a whole, Bill 23 represents a vision of the region whose primary goal is to maximize the development industry’s returns on investment. What the region needs is a vision for an affordable, liveable and sustainable future. The debates that Bill 23 has prompted could be a start to that conversation. They cannot be its end.