NFTP – the edge of the storm

For most of us, Christmas is one of the most treasured seasons of the year. It is a time steeped in tradition, warmth, and love. Whether you are a child, young at heart, or believe you have sat under more Christmas tree boughs than you’d like to admit, we can still witness incredible wisps of magic that somehow seem to weave into reality.

However, at the risk of bursting your idyllic Christmas bubble, I must warn you of a severe storm brewing in the New Year. And it is heading right at all Ontarians. The edge of the storm has been confirmed in the form of Bill 39, the Better Municipal Governance Act, and Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act.

The people of Ontario value democracy. Ontarians are right to be concerned about Premier Doug Ford’s latest political ploys. These acts effectively grab power from democratically elected municipal decision-makers. And since when do the principles of democracy include the ideals that decisions should be made with as little as one-third support of duly elected officials?

Well, it seems that is what Premier Ford believes democracy looks like. Bills 23 and 39 are ploys designed to override laws protecting the environment and Earth’s natural systems — all in the name of expansion, development, power and individual economic gain.

The Conservative Government says they created Bills 23 and 39 to solve Ontario’s housing affordability crisis. But let there be no mistake; they are also attacks on democracy that will do nothing to resolve our housing crisis or build affordable homes. Instead, the main but cloaked goal of these plans is to nicely pad the coffers of wealthy developers who are PC donors.

The funny thing is, I don’t recall Doug Ford sharing such views or plans before the last election. Do you? He went on record saying, “Unequivocally, we won’t touch the Greenbelt.” Mr. Ford told the Ontario Legislature, “I have not touched the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt, we won’t build on the Greenbelt.”

It is interesting to note that Premier Ford seems to apply the same upside-down view of democracy to public opinion as well. A  recent survey by Mainstreet Poll found that 12 percent of Ontarians disapprove of the Ford Government’s plans for housing and the changes to mayoral powers and 55 percent strongly disapprove. That means 67 percent of all Ontario voters opposed his plans. Further, a total of only 26 percent approve or strongly approve of the policies. Even so, Mr. Ford continues to forge ahead.

Premier Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark say they are putting forth an olive branch by offering to swap existing greenbelt lands for other undeveloped lands. But Edward McDonnell, the CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, said that it is not quite that simple. McDonnell said, “There’s a danger with land swaps in terms of breaking up systems that are critical to the Greenbelt’s success. You know, water resource systems, natural systems, agricultural systems. And what’s made the Greenbelt really important to Ontario for a long time is the fact that it does protect these complete systems.”

As readers know, the Lieutenant Governor is the King’s representative here in Ontario. The role is primarily symbolic and ceremonial and is strictly a nonpartisan appointment. The Lt. Governor never offers any personal or political advice. So it is very telling that, just days ago, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell could not help but express concerns similar to those of the people of Ontario.

Offering the King’s good wishes for the Christmas Season from the Speaker’s Chair, she said, “Every time I get invited into this chamber, I walk in with a sense of awe, but I also — and maybe it’s particularly this year — feel a heavy weight: the weight of obligation, the weight of opportunity to protect and nurture something that we all hold so precious, and that’s our democracy.”  In a nod to Ukraine, she said, “We see a fragility in democracies around the world, and Canada is no different. Democracy is an interesting word. It’s so much more than a vote; it really is about how we choose to live our lives together in community.”

New Democrats say that there are ways to effectively resolve Ontario’s affordable housing crisis that;  do not involve destroying our Greenbelt ecosystems; that do not forever ruin arable, food-producing farmland; and do not flip democratic principles upside down. Our plan to resolve the affordable housing crisis includes: building more affordable homes for Ontarians; bringing in more robust rent control measures; building missing middle-homes in existing neighbourhoods; and clamping down on speculation for profit. In addition, our plan would ensure food production continues, prevent flooding and keep our biodiversity safe.

We will continue fighting for real solutions to the housing crisis, for strong local democracy and for the preservation of our precious Greenbelt.

My wish for you and your loved ones is that this year you will put all the distractions of the world around us aside and again share the magical spirit of your youth that only Christmas with your loved ones. So, on behalf of my team and me, we wish you Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha