There are few supporters of Bill 39. Previous Toronto mayors, major newspapers, academics, many elected representatives, and many ordinary Ontarians have all spoken against it. The Toronto & York Region Labour Council, which represents more than 220,000 workers from 150 unions and locals who work in every sector of the economy, joins in opposing this bill.
The most obvious problem is that Bill 39 is undemocratic. It allows by-laws to be made by only one-third of the members of city council, an unprecedented move within Canada’s democratic traditions.
At the municipal level, this matters because poor and marginalized communities have the least influence on politics. Wealthy communities, on the other hand, have relatively easy access to power. It is at the municipal level that people are affected by their government’s decisions on a daily basis. It is at the municipal level that we can most easily elect champions who will do the hard job of working for poor people and communities.
In Toronto, we recently elected a much more representative and progressive group of councillors than ever before. They were poised to make a difference for their constituents and for poorer and marginalized communities across the city. Now, the existing challenges in representing ALL Torontonians will be exacerbated by the ability of the Mayor to change policies, or in other cases resist changing policies, at whim. It will be even harder for these residents to get representation on issues that matter to them.
This isn’t the first time the Ford government has interfered in Toronto politics. In 2018, the Conservatives foresaw that something similar would happen. They brought in the infamous Bill 5, which slashed Toronto city council mid-election from 47 to 25 seats to avoid a sweep by new, more representative and progressive councillors.
At the moment, the undemocratic one-third provision applies only to Toronto and Ottawa. But it can be expanded to other municipalities with the stroke of a pen, away from the eyes of the legislature at Queen’s Park, since the designation of affected municipalities happens by simple regulation.
The second problem is also one of democracy. Under Bill 39, in York Region (and two other regions), the Conservative Government can handpick whomever they wish to be the head of council at the regional level for the 2022 term. In the near future, they will be able to replace the existing head of council (who was either elected or appointed by council) that is already in place, if they don’t feel the current head of council will be sufficiently compliant with developer priorities.
An additional concern is that it is unclear what will happen to employment land zoning with these new undemocratic powers of Toronto city council. There has been significant pressure by developers in the past to re-zone employment lands for commercial or residential development. There is a lot of money to be made if the value of these lands increases because of re-zoning. The Labour Council supports and calls for more residential development for Torontonians (especially affordable and deeply affordable housing); however, plenty of land and intensification opportunities exist within the City without needing to touch employment lands. We must avoid becoming a “resort city” where there is a shortage of good middle-income jobs because we have eliminated opportunities for manufacturing and other accepted uses of employment lands. This would wreak havoc on our city’s economic security.
Bill 39 takes even more property out of the protected Greenbelt. Climate change is already a problem. We know we need to protect wetlands and water sources, or risk making climate change even more severe. Experts say these lands are not needed for housing, that there is plenty of other land for building housing in the GTA.
Experts also say that the kind of housing that will be built under Bill 39 (and companion Bill 23) is unlikely to be affordable housing, and that the steps to redevelop housing will actually reduce affordability.
Bill 39 is wrongheaded and takes us down a path where the ends DO NOT justify the means. Why is the government so determined to get this passed quickly? It is clear from the controversy around Bill 23 (and the Duffins Creek schedule from Bill 39) that motives and relationships of the Ford Conservatives are questionable and may not pass the smell test.
The so-called “Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022” is anything but that.
The Toronto & York Region Labour Council urges you to abandon Bill 39 in its entirety. In its place, let us take the opportunity to discuss a new deal for cities, which would provide for more independent fiscal and policy authority at the municipal level.
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