Vaughan Mayor and former Leader of the Ontario Liberals, Steven del Duca, today accused York Regional planning staff of trying to create a role for themselves if a much touted municipal reorganisation sees the Region disappearing in its current form.
Del Duca, the new kid on the block, was responding to a memo (Regional Planning Transition Plan) put before the Council by the Region’s Chief Planner, Paul Freeman. Del Duca suggested that the region’s planners were in “self-preservation” mode.
Newmarket’s John Taylor said the comment was unnecessary, derogatory and inaccurate.
When there are matters of great consequence at stake the last thing we need is for our politicians to dance around the issue, afraid to venture an opinion.
For as long as I can remember, members of York Regional Council have behaved in a way that avoids unpleasantness, studiously avoiding direct criticism of their colleagues. Everything said in the hushed, reverential tones of a fusty old Club. Tony van Bynen was an exemplar of this type. In the same way, Newmarket’s Tom Vegh never tries to lead or shape opinion. He is a spectator of events.
So what happened today was, in one sense, remarkable.
Del Duca took aim at the Chief Planner, Paul Freeman, whose memorandum he deemed to be defective. (Del Duca should instead have targeted Doug Ford who still hasn't decided what he wants to do with municipalities.)
Regional Official Plan to be replaced by nine plans
Georgina’s Margaret Quirk asks the Region’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bruce Macgregor, if there would still be a regional official plan after Bill 23 (More Homes Built Faster Act 2022) had been brought in and fully implemented.
Bruce Macgregor replies:
"Our understanding presently is that the Regional Official Plan will be replaced ultimately by official plans from nine of the local municipalities. Our job from a planning perspective will be to keep tabs of those plans; to participate in their evolution and to understand where growth is going for the purposes of the master planning that we've done to ensure that the infrastructure and services are provided.
We have master plans for roads and transit. We have a master plan for water and wastewater. We have a master plan for paramedic services. We are building communities now that are the size of medium towns in Ontario in concession blocks in York region. And even more than that in some of the major transit station areas and the areas where our communities are densifying.
And so there is a need for regional services that we have to be aware of - no differently than the school boards and others. Healthcare providers that have to understand where our growth is going so that we build complete communities. So my expectation is we will have a close handle in coordinating the outcomes of local councils in their official plans.
Those will be the planning documents that will prevail for approval purposes under the Planning Act but we will necessarily have to be closely linked to that and bring decisions back to this council - or whatever successor exists of this council - to ensure that those services are being provided in the expected way and that we are able to fund them as well. Mr. Freeman could probably add some context relative to the Planning Act."
York Region's highly regarded Chief Planner, Paul Freeman, adds:
“…it is correct that the regional official plan will be replaced by the local official plans through the transition. It'll take some time as your councils update your official plans and adopt new official plans. Right now the region is still legislatively the approval authority of your official plans but that will change when the rest of the proclamation comes into place probably early next year. So the province will then be the approval authority at that point.
What the memo outlines is what the legislation tells us - that we will still be required and have an ability to comment on applications. The approval authority of Regional Council will disappear. There's no doubt about it, and so Mayor Quirk, it does get replaced. But as Mr. McGregor said there's still a need for growth management at a regional level to understand how growth is going to be aligned with infrastructure. And that is a huge responsibility for the region that is predicated on fiscal sustainability.”
Newmarket’s John Taylor lambasts the “false narrative” which seeks to blame municipalities for the failure to build more homes. He says the reasons why housing isn’t being built in sufficient numbers could not be laid at the door of the regional planners. He insists that his defence of regional planning is not a defence of the status quo.
Taylor then throws down the gauntlet:
“If we want to challenge the status quo let's talk about Housing York starting to build purpose built rental tomorrow on regional properties, on this property right here.
(I don’t know if Taylor meant building on the car park at the Regional Administrative building on Yonge Street but it sounded like it).
“Let's stop pretending we're challenging the status quo by talking about what level regional planning is involved and let's start talking about challenging the status quo and getting things built. Housing York is and can be… the single largest provider of rental housing in the region and we can produce much more. We can produce units. We want to challenge the status quo about how much the regional planning is involved but barely a word was said about the fact that Housing York’s capital funding source was wiped out by Bill 23. Our ability to build units, more housing, 1.5 million units, was wiped out. I don't know how many people who want to challenge the status quo met with the Premier and sent letters in about that because that's significant.”
No-one responds directly.
The council will hold a workshop in the fall where each municipality will provide information on housing approvals, when and where they were given and if they have been acted upon.
The following members spoke in the debate: Steven Del Duca (Vaughan), Margaret Quirk (Georgina), John Taylor (Newmarket), David West and Joe Di Paolo (Richmond Hill), Iain Lovatt (Whitchurch Stouffville), Gino Rosati and Mario Racco (Vaughan). Newmarket’s Regional Councillor Tom Vegh again kept his thoughts to himself.
Related: Ontario Newsroom 18 May 2023: Ontario announces intent to dissolve Peel Region and from TVO 30 June 2023: Doug Ford wants changes in Simcoe County. What do local Mayors want?