Parks Matter in Ontario: Protect Parks from Bill 23

novembre 18, 2022
Park People

Bill 23, or the More Homes Built Faster Act is a sweeping bill that includes some helpful solutions to increase housing supply in Ontario. Park People strongly supports increasing affordable and accessible housing supply in the province. 

However, it is unquestionable that Bill 23 will have a devastating impact on Ontario parks, people, communities, and nature. Increasing the supply of housing must be part of comprehensive efforts to build sustainable and liveable communities. We encourage you to join Park People and defend parks in the province of Ontario. 

Understanding Bill 23’s Impact on Parks

Bill 23 will drastically diminish park budgets and reduce the amount of parkland created to support new growth, which will devastate access to quality parks and nature in Ontario.

Today, developers in the province of Ontario are required to invest in public services in the communities where they build. The municipal tools to secure these investments are: Development Charges, Parkland Dedication Fees, and Community Benefit Charges. These investments flow to municipalities and are used to pay for essential services like parks. 

Here are some of the proposed changes to these charges under Bill 23:

  • For high-density residential developments, parkland dedication fees would shrink by 50% and be capped at 15% of the area or value of the land. Development charges would be reduced by up to 25% for rental units of buildings. The Narwhal’s analysis puts it most succinctly: “Density wouldn’t matter — a five-storey and 50-storey building on the same size plot would have the same parkland requirement.”  
  • Today, developers are required by the Planning Act to set aside one hectare of land for every 300 units they build. Under Bill 23, this ratio would shrink from 1:300 to one hectare for every 600 units, cutting land set aside for parks by 50%. 
  • Currently, developers must set aside a portion of their development plan for park space. Developers propose parcels of land that they think are suitable for parks, but municipalities get the final say on whether or not that land is good enough for a park and will meet the needs of the community. Under Bill 23, developers will be able to push back if a municipality rejects their proposal, by appealing the decision to the Ontario Land Tribunal. The Tribunal will make the final decision, not the municipality.
  • Bill 23 will allow land not typically considered parkland to count toward the requirements. Space above an underground parking lot or private property with dedicated public access (“POPs”) would count toward a developer’s parkland dedication requirements. POPs have many benefits, but they are not the same as a public park. 
  • Instead of setting aside land for parks, developers instead can pay money — known as cash-in-lieu of parkland — which cities accumulate until they have enough funds to purchase greenspace. Today, the Planning Act allows cash-in-lieu of parkland to be determined at the financial equivalent of one hectare of land for every 500 units. Under Bill 23, this ratio would also shrink from 1:500 to the financial equivalent of one hectare of land for every 1000 units, cutting the rate by 50%.
  • Furthermore, Bill 23 will require cities to allocate or spend 60 percent of this cash-in-lieu money every year, making it incredibly difficult to save up to secure expensive city land for parks. 
  • Development charges, parkland dedication fees, and community benefit charges would no longer apply to affordable housing, non-profit housing, and inclusionary zoning units.

How will cities make up for these revenue losses to provide Ontarians with access to quality parks? Ontario’s municipalities are already struggling to keep up with rising land and construction costs to meet the park needs of our growing population. In our 2022 Canadian City Parks Report  69% of cities reported that acquiring/expanding parkland to meet growth needs is a challenge. With Bill 23, the province downloads these expenses onto existing municipal park budgets, without any compensation or new support. 

Bill 23 will mean fewer quality parks, with dire consequences for people, communities, and nature across the province. Research shows that our newcomer and equity-deserving communities are often the least well served by quality green spaces. Reducing park budgets will have the greatest impact on the communities that need parks most.

Without quality parks, where will kids go to play with friends? Where will people living in high rises go to spend quality time outdoors, with others in their community? Where will families go to get out into nature and experience its benefits for their health and well-being?   

Why it matters

86% of Canadians live in cities and this number is only expected to rise. Yes, we need to provide housing for people in our growing cities. But housing must be created in the context of sustainable and livable cities where people and the rest of nature thrive.  

Too often, green spaces are dismissed as ‘nice to have’ infrastructure rather than essential for our physical and mental health. COVID brought the importance of parks into sharp relief. In our 2022 Canadian City Parks Report, over 90% of urban dwellers said parks benefited their mental health and physical health in the past year.

Because parks are essential, park budgets cannot be discretionary– they must be recognized as essential investments for livable, equitable, sustainable, and thriving cities in Ontario.

As Parks Canada recently shared: “There is growing awareness of the importance of urban parks as essential places for conservation, recreation, learning, and mental and physical wellbeing.” The belief that “expanding access to and protection of nature in urban centres pays real dividends” underpins the federal government’s recent investments in urban nature. 

We all know we need more investment in parks, not less. Parks are essential and Bill 23 will have a devastating impact on access to green spaces in Ontario’s cities.

What you can do

Bill 23 is being pushed through the legislature and there is little time to act. 

We’ve highlighted the devastating impact of Bill 23 on city parks, it also includes measures to pave over portions of the Greenbelt and strip the ability of Conservation Authorities to protect environmentally sensitive spaces. These are also pressing issues that must be addressed.

Parks and Recreation Ontario has put together a Toolkit you can use to make your voice heard on the importance of parks for thriving communities. 

  1. Write a letter to your MPP. PRO has written a letter you can use or adapt. Find your MPP here and use the letter/email template to express your concerns on Bill 23.
  2. Share PRO’s toolkit with your network and encourage them to contribute their thoughts.