Mike Sullivan’s submission on Bill 23
Bill 23 is an omnibus bill which changes many different acts and regulations. The stated goal of building more homes faster is not met by this bill. It removes or alters many public protections, including protections against bad planning decisions, protections against flooding, and protections against ugly development. It will add taxes to most Ontarians’ property tax bills and will add significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions of the province. The Bill misses opportunities to actually lower the cost of building homes and to lower the cost of occupancy, which would in turn make homes more affordable.
First, the missed opportunities. The bill does absolutely nothing to reduce the cost of construction. It might reduce the purchase price of developments on unserviced land, by reducing or eliminating the development fees payable to the city. But there is no guarantee that these savings will be passed on to buyers, and it does nothing to help with the cost of intensification projects, such as laneway developments or adding suites to an existing property.
The province could have significantly reduced the costs of construction by eliminating the Provincial portion of the HST on building materials. The pandemic and supply chain issues have raised the price of building materials, in some cases threefold, which has only made construction more expensive. And this would have the added benefits of making construction of intensification housing less expensive. The elimination of HST could be time-limited to encourage speedier building.
The other missed opportunity is to reduce the cost of energy use for new construction. Part of the calculations used by lenders for determining who qualifies is the ongoing cost of energy. It is now possible to build housing that uses the energy of a hair dryer to completely heat or cool a house. But the provincial building code is years, perhaps decades behind that standard. The upfront cost to build such housing is now competitive with traditional forced air furnace-based construction, based in part on the reduction in cost by not having to install furnaces.
The bill could have mandated incentivizing ‘passive’ construction. The significantly lowered cost of heating, hot water and cooling means that more people will qualify to purchase because of the lowered future energy costs. Rental accommodation, too will be more economical to run, thus portending lower rents. Eliminating the use of fossil fuels means that future federal carbon tax increases will be avoided entirely. And owners of these properties will never face what the rest of Ontario will, by 2050, the need to completely replace heating and hot water systems to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
In fact, the bill as written does the opposite of encouraging energy efficiency. It eliminates the possibility for cities themselves to mandate or incentivize energy efficiency. Ontario’s building code adopts the lowest rung on the federal step code, so it is no help either.
It is for the above reasons that I believe the government should scrap bill 23 and go back to the drawing board.
There are many other reasons to dislike the bill. Cities will need to impose new surtaxes (clever cities might name them after the Premier or local MPP) to pay for new infrastructure. And with no guarantee that what is built will be priced any lower than current builds. Eliminating the ability for conservation authorities to do their job means the very real possibility of increased flooding as a result of poor decisions unchallengeable. Climate change has already shown its ugly face in several parts of Ontario and failure to protect wetlands or other mitigating features of the drainage systems means increased risk, which, even if flooding is not experienced locally, will mean increased premiums for insurance, or the inability to insure. And of course removing the ability for cities to determine the appearance of new builds will allow the creation of a vast array of ugly. Does the government really want to be responsible for the uglification of Ontario?
We do not live in China, or Soviet Russia. We have a proud and storied history of increasing our democratic processes and safeguards. This bill takes them backwards, does not really accomplish the goals, and puts unchallengeable decision-making in the hands of fewer and fewer citizens. Prime Minister Trudeau might have once opined that he admired China’s government. We here in Ontario should find better ways to do things than emulating dictatorships.