Here’s what Bill 108 looks like

Recently, the Government of Ontario put forward Bill 108, with a typically Orwellian name, More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019. The omnibus bill amends 13 statutes, but we’ll be focusing primarily on those affecting the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), Planning Act, and Development Charges Act.

Bill 108 will not only return the LPAT to the old Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) rules, but will also reduce municipalities’ oversight on new development.

From the government that brought you “developing the Greenbelt” 🙄

Doug has dabbled in housing discussions previously, such as when he proposed opening up the Greenbelt to development. As we’ve argued previously, we have enough under-utilized land in Toronto to go around; we need to look at increasing density across the city, by allowing laneway suites and building tall buildings. Not by destroying our natural environment. We’ve seen this kind of short-sighted, short-term thinking from this government already: and, as we mentioned previously, Doug’s track record has been abysmal, so Bill 108 certainly fits the pattern.

OMB to LPAT to LPAT 2.0

Bill 108 proposes reverting to many of the old OMB rules while retaining the LPAT name. While LPAT 1.0 didn’t necessarily improve the appeal process, it did change the way the discussion worked. Fundamentally, the OMB and LPAT approached an appeal in very different ways. For instance:

Cases presented at the OMB and LPAT 2.0 are de novo (“of new”)

Even if a developer spent two years negotiating with the city, both the city and the developer start over from scratch. This was the old OMB method, which was later replaced with a test of conformity under LPAT 1.0. 

Under the LPAT 1.0 rules, if a developer proposed a change on a site and were rejected, when they appealed, they would need to demonstrate:

  • How the city’s decision was inconsistent with provincial or municipal planning rules, and
  • How the developer’s proposal conformed to provincial and municipal planning rules

In comparison, under the OMB rules, the appellant and defendant were arguing whether their vision constituted “good planning”, so the range of options available to the OMB were much greater. The LPAT 1.0 system narrowed the scope of how appeals would be made.

So what does this mean for residents?

Under the old OMB rules, a successful appeal could massively change the direction of a project. In comparison, under the LPAT rules, the evidence used in an appeal was the work completed to date. So, the appellant had more of an incentive to engage with the community because the work they did would later be useful in an appeal

When new development is proposed, sometimes the strongest opposition comes from NIMBYs (not in my backyard). But the LPAT changed the focus of the discussion, which meant that there was a greater potential for engagement and less of a chance of residents transforming into the dreaded NIMBY, or worse, the BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. 

Is the OMB to blame for NIMBYism? Of course not; but it changed the channel on a discussion that has been comprised mostly of yelling and loud noises

Changes to inclusionary zoning by-laws

Bill 108 proposes guidelines on where a city can implement inclusionary zoning by-laws, such as only permitting them near major transit station areas—near a subway or GO train line—or where a development permit system is in place. This means that the old inclusionary zoning rules, which came into effect in April of 2018, would be further restricted (Government of Ontario, 2018).

Generally speaking, we want to see more development, and we don’t think it’s unreasonable to set aside a few units in a project to help out our most disadvantaged neighbours. But adding more rules will hardly help speed up the approvals process.

Changing rules on Development Charges

Development Charges (DCs) are deeply divisive, but it’s something that the City has relied on for years to pay for new services and amenities. The City has had a tumultuous history with levying taxes: property tax increases have been kept low, with the City relying more on property transfer taxes and DCs. Even though no one really likes to pay taxes, we need them to fund things we do like, such as parks and daycares (unless you live in Cabbagetown). And yes, DCs have been criticized before for their lack of transparency, so seeing more rules put in place isn’t too surprising (Porter, 2019).

Bill 108 proposes creating a new growth-related fund that packages DCs, parks, and other capital facilities into one line item. The proposed change will restrict how the City can use DCs, which is a problem for Toronto in particular, because City budgets rely very heavily on them. For instance, the following community services are delivered with DCs:

  • 37% of Parks, Forestry and Recreation is funded through DCs: $697 million out of the total $1.889 billion budget,
  • 34% of the Toronto Public Library is funded through DCs: $103.973 million out of the total $309.412 million budget, and 
  • 24% of Children’s Services (e.g, daycares) is funded through DCs: $20.077 million out of the total $83.032 million.

Is relying on DCs to fund our necessary social services a good idea? Definitely not. But quitting DCs cold turkey will be painful.

So what does this mean for you, dear reader?

Will the Bill bring you more homes or more choice? It’s unlikely. The proposed changes operate at a pretty high level, so you probably won’t notice big changes for a number of years. Down the road, it may mean fewer parks, libraries, daycares. 

Ultimately, Bill 108 is much more of the same: politicians muddling around in the housing industry, so that they can at least claim they did ‘something’, no matter how ineffectual. So, rather than making it easier for a city to respond to development, Bill 108 mostly introduces new rules and makes development harder. According to the Ryerson City Building Institute,

The Legislation as proposed appears to emphasize only strategies to build more housing supply—more quickly and at a lower cost—without directly addressing affordability.

Cities in Ontario are ‘creatures of the province’: they are the constitutional responsibility of the provinces and have no legal standing in their own right. As the province decides, the cities must obey—and the province of Ontario is going out of its way to demonstrate just how much.

Here’s a video from City Council back in May where Chief Planner Greg Lintern reports his findings.