Recall that last month’s column began with “By the time you read this piece, Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act – may well have been passed into law.” Regrettably I was not wrong. Indeed Bill 23 received Royal Assent on November 28, 2022, bringing substantial portions of the bill into force, while other portions, such as the Ontario Heritage Act provisions, will come into force on a date to be proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor.
Of the three specific areas I looked at from a Leaside perspective, only one was amended, compared with the bill introduced in October. The prohibition on third party (i.e., resident, community groups) appeals of development applications to the Ontario Land Tribunal was removed from the bill as approved. But no changes were made to Bill 23 in relation to third-party appeals for minor variances and severances – so these appeals to the Toronto Local Appeal Body (TLAB) are now prohibited. This means that a resident will no longer be able to appeal the “monster house” application next door approved by the Committee of Adjustment. It’s unclear at the moment if it means that a neighbour is unable to participate in an appeal by the applicant to a refusal of their application by the committee. In any case, this change amounts to a significant loss of democratic rights, and hopefully will be challenged.
Bill 23 is not the only undemocratic legislation to be passed recently. Bill 3 – the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, adopted in September – centralizes several powers in the office of the mayor. Among other things, this law gives the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to veto bylaws and override council decisions, in the name of provincial priorities. Such moves are profoundly worrying. While Mayor Tory says he will not abuse these powers, what about the next mayor?
Bill 39 expands on governance matters changed in the government’s earlier Bill 3. Bill 39 enables the Mayor of Toronto (and mayors of other municipalities so designated by Ontario regulation) to have a bylaw passed by City Council with only one-third of the councillors voting in support. Only eight of the 25 Toronto councillors would need to be onside for the mayor to have his way, at least on measures that line up with identified aims of the Ontario Government. As former “Tiny Perfect” Mayor of Toronto David Crombie commented, “If there’s one tenet that defines democracy different than any other system, it’s called majority government…. The idea that you can get rid of it and say ‘trust me’ is bizarre.” To her credit, Councillor Jaye Robinson joined with 14 of her fellow councillors in signing a letter to the Premier in opposition to Bill 39.
How does this affect Leaside? If you believe that power is finite, if you increase one side, don’t you automatically weaken the other side? It follows that the flip side of “strong mayor” is “weak councillor.” It looks to me that the real losers are disempowered residents – not only in Leaside, but across the city.
These alarming developments at a governance level are certainly discouraging to lovers of democracy, but at this time of year there are important reminders that our society is still strong. Take the annual Carols by Candlelight, a collaboration between the choirs of Leaside United Church and Northlea United Church held recently. The shared services fill our hearts with the spirit of the season. And the collections for The Neighbourhood Office, Food Collaborative and Youth Without Shelter reflect the churches’ long-time outreach beyond our community to those less fortunate.
Such collaborations are a reminder that social capital is essential. The recently issued Toronto Social Capital Study 2022, issued by the Toronto Foundation and Environics Institute for Survey Research makes a strong case for the importance of connection. So don’t forget to clear the snow from your neighbours’ sidewalk this winter – remember you’re building social capital!