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OPINION: Welcome to Ontario, Prepare for Municipal Whiplash!

If the ongoing chatter at Queens Park is any indication, Doug Ford's provincial government in Ontario will be backtracking on its ambitious plan to dissolve Peel Region, a move that had been in the works for months with a targeted deadline of January 1st, 2024.

The proposal aimed to transform the two-tier government structure, encompassing Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon, into three separate entities. However, the sudden about-face will be just one in another of a series of municipal reversals that have characterized the Ontario government's actions when it comes to municipalities.

This most recent reversal is not an isolated incident. In November, the Ontario PC's introduced legislation that would undo changes made to over a dozen municipalities' official plans in 2022 and early 2023. Municipalities such as Barrie, Belleville, Guelph, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough, Wellington County, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, and York have been told that the changes to the Official Plans that the provinces required would not be going ahead as originally planned.

This reversal started back in October when the province rolled back expansions to urban boundaries for several communities after discovering that the former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Hon. Steve Clark, failed to meet government standards.

Meanwhile, earlier in the summer, the province reversed controversial changes to the Greenbelt, which would have removed 15 parcels of land for future housing developments. This abrupt policy shift left municipalities like Pickering and Grimsby seeking reimbursement for the resources expended in adapting to the initial changes, totalling around $400,000, according to reports.

These constant about-faces on major municipal initiatives come at a time when municipalities across Ontario are grappling with significant challenges. From infrastructure issues and housing challenges to budgetary constraints, local governments find themselves navigating a complex landscape. The Ontario government's unpredictability has only added to their burdens, creating a legislative nightmare for municipalities in 2023.

Municipalities operate at the mercy of provincial decisions. When the province dictates a course of action, local governments are obliged to follow. However, the recent string of reversals must have municipalities feeling as though they are running a marathon only to be told at the last mile to start again from the beginning, but this time using a different set of rules.

It's a frustrating and disheartening experience for communities that invest time, resources, and staff hours in implementing changes, only to see those efforts undone by the province.

The need for structure and consistency from governmental partners is critical for municipalities trying to serve their communities effectively. Yet, 2023 has proven to be a year of uncertainty, with the provincial government causing municipal governments to suffer from a severe case of whiplash.

Municipalities are committed to working for the betterment of their communities, but the constant changes and backtracks from the provincial government raise a pertinent question: Can Doug Ford and the Ontario PC's be counted on to collaborate with municipalities in 2024? Or will the decisions made in 2023 continue to reverberate, disrupting the stability that local governments strive to maintain?

Only time will reveal the answers to these questions, and unfortunately, it is the municipalities and their residents who will bear the brunt of the consequences. In 2023, local governments across Ontario will undoubtedly be left hoping for a more stable and collaborative relationship with the provincial government in 2024.


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