Dartmoor landowner who won wild camping ban may be putting rare beetle at risk

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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Exclusive: Alexander Darwall, who said he brought case to improve conservation, is releasing pheasants near protected woodlandThe landowner who took Dartmoor national park to court to ban wild camping may be putting a rare beetle at risk by releasing pheasants next to an ecologically important woodland, against the advice of environmental experts.This is despite him having said he pushed for a wild camping ban in order to “improve conservation of the Dartmoor commons”, arguing that campers damage the national park with litter and disturbance. Continue reading...

Exclusive: Alexander Darwall, who said he brought case to improve conservation, is releasing pheasants near protected woodlandThe landowner who took Dartmoor national park to court to ban wild camping may be putting a rare beetle at risk by releasing pheasants next to an ecologically important woodland, against the advice of environmental experts.This is despite him having said he pushed for a wild camping ban in order to “improve conservation of the Dartmoor commons”, arguing that campers damage the national park with litter and disturbance. Continue reading...

Exclusive: Alexander Darwall, who said he brought case to improve conservation, is releasing pheasants near protected woodland

The landowner who took Dartmoor national park to court to ban wild camping may be putting a rare beetle at risk by releasing pheasants next to an ecologically important woodland, against the advice of environmental experts.

This is despite him having said he pushed for a wild camping ban in order to “improve conservation of the Dartmoor commons”, arguing that campers damage the national park with litter and disturbance.

Continue reading...
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Oscars goody bags contained ‘unseemly’ gift: Certificates for Aboriginal land

Indigenous groups in Australia said they weren't consulted and called the conservation ploy a "money-making scheme."

As Academy Award nominees opened up their exclusive goody bags this year, they found vouchers for cosmetic surgery, invitations for complimentary stays at a lighthouse in Italy, and a chocolate box with a personalized video embedded inside. They also found a certificate to plots of land in Australia, one square meter of Indigenous territory in northeast Australia, gifted to recover the “spiritual connection” Aboriginal people have had with Australia and conserve and protect the area.  But members of the Barunggam and other Aboriginal communities, the original caretakers of the territory in question, say they were never contacted on the matter, and Indigenous groups cited in materials given out to Oscar nominees also say they had no communication with the organization behind the goody bag gift. Pieces of Australia, a for-profit conservation organization that claims to buy and sell private land in order to protect it, is one of many brands that paid to be included in the award nominee gift bags which are valued at about $126,000. Companies pay up to $4,000 to secure a place in the bag but are not affiliated with the Academy, and prepared by a private advertising company. The gift of land from Pieces of Australia is known as the “Australia Mate Conservation Pack” and includes a personalized certificate of land license, a plot number, and the promise that for every conservation pack purchased, two trees would be planted. Online, the pack retails for $79.95.  According to the Guardian, the pack also came with a handbook, and claims that Pieces of Australia partnered with the Indigenous Carbon Industry Network, or ICIN, an Indigenous-led advocacy group that promotes and facilitates Indigenous inclusion in the carbon industry. But ICIN says there is no relationship with Pieces of Australia, and that there has been no correspondence with the Academy Awards, Distinctive Assets, the brand behind the goody bags, or Niels Chanelier, Pieces of Australia’s 29-year-old CEO. According to Pieces of Australia’s website, the area where the parcels are located is nearly 38,000 square kilometers – an area just slightly smaller than Switzerland – and home to species like koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, and red belly black snakes. The company calls the area their “flagship piece of Australian native land that we are proud to own and preserve.” Chaneliere told The Telegraph his intent was to get nominees to engage with the Australian bush in a responsible manner, adding that he also wanted to make a profitable business while raising awareness for Australia’s Indigenous heritage and the unique flora and fauna.  Pieces of Australia’s website includes a land acknowledgement but has also been accused of stealing text and photos from Indigenous groups. ICIN CEO Anna Boustead told National Indigenous Television, or NITV, several photos featuring Aboriginal ranger groups appeared to have been taken from their website and reproduced by Pieces of Australia, as well as written material, without the organization’s permission.  Tim Wishart, principal legal officer of the Queensland South Native Title Lands, an organization that provides native title services, said that Chanelier’s business is a “money-making scheme” and that his involvement in the Oscars goody bags was an “unseemly and inappropriate piece of self-promotion.”  In 2022, Highland Titles gave out land parcels in Scotland which included nominees receiving the title of Lord, Lady or Laird of Glencoe. On Piece of Australia’s “about us” section, Chanelier writes he was inspired by the novelty Scottish plots.“I realised our own backyard is abundant in unique flora/fauna known to the world and currently undergoing its own set of environmental stresses.” Requests for comment from Pieces of Australia were not returned. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Oscars goody bags contained ‘unseemly’ gift: Certificates for Aboriginal land on Mar 17, 2023.

National Audubon Society rejects calls to drop enslaver's name

The National Audubon Society announced on Wednesday that it would retain the Audubon name, despite calls to drop the reference to the 19th century naturalist and painter who was also a slave owner and vocal opponent of abolition. The renowned bird conservation organization, which was named for John James Audubon, said it made the decision after “a...

The National Audubon Society announced on Wednesday that it would retain the Audubon name, despite calls to drop the reference to the 19th century naturalist and painter who was also a slave owner and vocal opponent of abolition. The renowned bird conservation organization, which was named for John James Audubon, said it made the decision after “a lengthy process to examine its name in light of the personal history of its namesake." “This is an important time for birds and our shared planet, and this decision positions the organization to focus our equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts and our conservation work where it is most urgently needed,” Susan Bell, the chair of the National Audubon Society’s board of directors, said in a statement. “The name has come to represent so much more than the work of one person, but a broader love of birds and nature, and a non-partisan approach to conservation,” Bell added. The society also announced a $25 million commitment to fund its diversity, equity and inclusion work over the next five years, and vowed to continue to promote awareness and understanding about Audubon’s “problematic legacy” and the inequalities “inherent in the conservation movement.” The Bird Union, the National Audubon Society’s staff union, slammed the board of directors' decision on Wednesday as displaying a lack of interest in “following through on their commitments to cultivate a fair and equitable workplace.” “Their decision to double down on celebrating a white supremacist and to continue to brand our good work with his name actively inflicts harm on marginalized communities, including members of our union who for too long have been excluded from the environmental movement,” the union said in a statement. The group also largely dismissed the society’s commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion work, adding that “we have heard many empty promises and declarations from [CEO Elizabeth] Gray, and have rarely seen this commitment carried out at the bargaining table.”

‘Seemingly minor changes’ to Alberta’s parks could create big impacts. Here’s what you need to know

By Drew Anderson Conservation advocates are ringing alarm bells about ‘1,000 cuts’ to Alberta’s parks. We dig into the government’s plans, from trails to budgets

By Drew Anderson Three years ago, Alberta’s United Conservative government under Jason Kenney announced it was going to close 10 provincial parks and recreation areas, and look to privatize some services in 164 others.  There were cuts to services, including cross-country trail grooming and the introduction of more fees.  The reaction was swift and deafening. It took almost a year for the UCP government to officially disavow its plans in the wake of the public upheaval. Some considered it the first defeat for the Kenney government.  Since then, parks have undergone more subtle changes, from the reorganization of ministries, funding for off-road enthusiasts and a focus on tourism and trail building.  In the recent budget, the government increased spending on public lands for access and recreation, including trails and structures, but there was no mention of increased spending for environmental sustainability.  We’ve tripled our Prairies coverage The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. We’ve tripled our Prairies coverage Katie Morrison, director of the southern Alberta chapter of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, dubs it: “death by a 1,000 cuts.” Here’s what we know about what has happened so far — and what’s to come — in Alberta’s parks. 1. New policy on public land has muddied the waters when it comes to what’s protected and what’s not Shortly before the government officially backed down from its parks plan in 2020, it introduced another change.  In November of that year, the Crown Lands Vision was unveiled with the promise of clarifying rules on public lands — including parks.  “Together, parks and public lands are really one thing — Crown lands managed by government for all Albertans and Indigenous peoples, now and for generations to come,” the vision read. The government said various rules and regulations for use of public land were confusing and ought to be streamlined. It wanted clarity, a focus on partnerships and recreation and, as always, a reduction in red tape.  “I think what it really does is blur the lines between parks that are protected and public lands that are not,” Morrison said. A hiking trail on Yamnuska in Alberta’s Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, part of Kananaskis Country. The province has emphasized recreation and access to parks, including millions for trails and facilities in the recent budget. Photo: Colette Derworiz / The Canadian Press She’s worried that could lead to a watering down of environmental protection in parks. Morrison thinks the vision will achieve the opposite of its stated intent — confusing the public and decreasing understanding about what is protected and why in Alberta.  2. Changes to park rules mean there’s less clarity on what can and can’t be done in Alberta parks Two years later, in April 2022, the UCP government announced Bill 21, its Red Tape Statutes Amendment Act 2022, which amended 15 different pieces of legislation across what was then nine different ministries.  Tucked into that bill were changes that could further blur the lines between parks and Crown land.  More specifically, it allowed for individual changes in different parks to be recommended by government agencies or other groups, which could include organizations of snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, hiking or other trail enthusiasts. Those changes could then be implemented without legislative intervention — they would be bureaucratic, rather than political.  It also means different parks could have vastly different rules in place, counter to the stated objectives of the Crown Lands Vision.  “There’s no longer a standard of, you know, in wildland parks here’s what you can and can’t do. In provincial parks, here’s what you can and can’t do. There could be new regulations coming in for a very specific area and not others,” Morrison said. 3. The new Trails Act opened the door for private to manage trails — including for motorized vehicles — and  build new ones When the Crown Lands Vision was unveiled, it promised a Trails Act to help manage the proliferation of hiking, biking and off-highway vehicle routes in the province.  In Feb. 2022, the act came into effect. It allows the government to appoint outside groups as trail managers and to designate certain areas for trail building and improvement. The government has said the act would improve management and planning. It could see an increase in official trails throughout the province, alongside greater access. Devon Earl, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, said there are groups that would do a good job as trail managers, but there can be an inherent conflict.  “There’s no guarantee that the main priority of these groups is going to be preservation of the environment,” she said.  “They have a membership base that really wants to get more access to wild spaces and expand trails and things like that. And there’s no guarantee that’s going to be within sustainable limits.” Earl said the missing piece is a lack of regional land use plans across most of the province. Those plans are supposed to consider the cumulative impacts of all uses on the land and establish thresholds for sustainability.  Despite seven designated regions requiring such plans, only two land use plans have been developed since 2009. “There’s so many areas where there are already way too many trails, and particularly off-highway vehicle trails, which have a relatively large impact on the environment,” she said. “The trails need to be below thresholds where wildlife and species at risk are impacted.” 4. Millions in government funding is now going to offroaders to build and maintain trails Concerns about motorized trails came to fore in the wake of the recent budget, when the government announced it was giving $8 million over four years to the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association and the Alberta Snowmobile Association for maintenance of existing trails and building new ones across the province.  Previously, the organizations maintained trails through volunteers and donations, but the Trails Act allowed the groups to be designated by the government for public funding.  This is in Kananaskis. Peanut Butter Valley is an official OHV trail that also allows Trucks. Trucks registered on the road don’t pay any OHV fees. This is FREEThere is NO Conservation FeeIf you park on the other side of the road to go hiking, biking or skiing, it costs $95 pic.twitter.com/HRdIGsZXlq— Bragg Creek-KCountry (@BCKOR) February 20, 2023 They are the first organizations to receive designations, acting as a sort of test case, according to the minister.  Critics have pointed to the big impact off-highway vehicles can have on animals and the environment and point to the state of areas like McLean Creek in Kananaskis Country as examples of the destruction.  That area, which has been chewed up by vehicles, is exempt from the newly introduced fee for accessing Kananaskis. 5.  Alberta parks are no longer part of the environment ministry Beyond the legislative, regulatory and funding changes, the government also announced it was splitting parks from the environment ministry when Danielle Smith became premier.  Alberta Environment and Parks was no more. Now there are two ministries: Forestry, Parks and Tourism and Environment and Protected Areas.  The move put the vast majority of land considered “protected areas” under the umbrella of Forestry, Parks and Tourism, with Smith saying it was time to recognize parks were there to be used. “Remember as well, forestry is also the way that we open up our parks. That’s where you’ve got [all-terrain vehicles], [they use] some of those forestry backroads, that’s where you’ve got camping,” she reportedly told the Western Standard in October 2022. Earl said the Alberta Wilderness Association has been assured operations within the parks division continues as before and conservation won’t be impacted.  “It doesn’t give us a lot of confidence, just because it’s not in a ministry that has a mandated priority towards conservation,” she said.  In the recent budget, there was plenty of talk about trails and recreation in the parks system, but no mention of environmental protection. Funding increases were largely for capital spending on recreation, with $14 million allocated over three years for trails, parking, staging areas, wayfinding and “associated waste management.” Todd Loewen is the first minister of Forestry, Parks and Tourism, after parks was cleaved from the environment ministry following the election of Danielle Smith. The focus of the ministry has been on tourism and recreation. Photo: Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press The majority of that work will take place on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, according to the budget.  In response to questions from The Narwhal, Leanne Niblock, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forestry, Parks and Tourism, highlighted the government’s investment in trails, $12 million for campgrounds and the establishment of Big Island Provincial Park, under review since 2021 and officially announced on Feb. 16. Big Island will be managed by the province, the City of Edmonton and the Enoch Cree First Nation. “All development in parks is already subject to strict environmental and cultural reviews,” Niblock said by email. “This environmentally responsible framework will set a renewed vision for Alberta Parks — keeping parks for people, sustaining the environment and supporting tourism and recreation outcomes.” Morrison said tourism and recreation are important factors when it comes to parks, but impacts also have to be considered. Those two things have to work in tandem.  “We may see that drift, and it’s much harder for managers to make those connections because they’re now in two separate departments,” she said. 6. Hunting and fishing are now also no longer overseen by the environment ministry Beyond the organizational shuffle that could signal big changes for parks in the province, the government also announced this year that it would be splitting up the people responsible for wildlife management.  The government said Fish and Wildlife, recently housed under the new Environment and Protected Areas ministry, is being separated.  Oversight for fish hatcheries will go to Alberta Irrigation and Agriculture, while a new department will be created in Forestry, Parks and Tourism that will “increase focus and capacity on supporting hunting and fishing as an activity on Crown lands,” according to a memo obtained by the Canadian Press.  Things like species at risk and habitat and land use planning will fall under the authority of Environment and Protected Areas.  “I think, for example, the allocation of hunting and fishing, which is now in the Ministry of Forestry, Parks, and Tourism — it really shouldn’t be a separate entity, because wildlife has value beyond hunting and fishing,” Earl said.  “And it really needs to be based on conservation science, it needs to be based on land use of what’s going on in the habitat of these wildlife species. So we’re concerned that there might not be great communication between all of these different pieces now that they’re in separate ministries.” 7.  ‘It’s really hard for people to keep up with all these seemingly minor changes’ The budget was focused on bringing more people to parks and public lands across Alberta, to build more facilities and bring in tourist dollars.  But it was part of a larger move to muddy the waters around significant changes to the way parks are regulated and operated within the province. “I think if all of these pieces, if they had bundled [them] into one there probably would have been a big backlash, but it’s really hard for people to keep up with all these seemingly minor changes, and to understand the impact of each minor change individually,” Morrison said. The Crown Lands Vision leads to red tape reductions and the Trails Act, which leads to a focus on tourism and access over ecology. The ministries are reorganized to separate the economic from the environmental. Monitoring and enforcement is cut up and spread.  “All of those put together, you paint this pretty bleak picture of where we’re going as a province in parks management, in environment management, especially in contrast to the ambitious conservation goals the rest of Canada in the world are taking on,” Morrison said. 

Cities push Ontario to roll back environmental cuts, commit to truly affordable housing in new budget

By Fatima Syed Calling Bill 23 'the biggest affront' to Ontario cities in 125 years, local politicians seek support after major slashes to conservation, funding and municipal powers

By Fatima Syed In the 37 years that he’s been a politician in Ontario’s Halton Region, Colin Best says he’s never seen a law as surprising or as broad as the Ford government’s latest development plan, Bill 23 or the More Homes Built Faster Act.  Six months ago, Best was elected president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, which represents all 444 municipalities in the province, from the city of Toronto to the town of Latchford in northeastern Ontario (population: 327). Two months into his tenure, on October 24, almost every town and city in Ontario elected a mayor that promised constituents their number one priority would be housing.  The very next morning — weeks before the new mayors and councils of 444 municipalities would be officially sworn in — Premier Doug Ford and Housing Minister Steve Clark introduced the legislation, which proposed an unprecedented weakening of local decision-making and oversight over development as well as a massive gutting of environmental protections. “It was such a rush,” Best, a regional councillor in Halton and a local councillor in Milton, said. “We had no consultation. We weren’t invited to any meetings. In 125 years, it’s the biggest affront to Ontario’s municipalities that I’ve ever seen.” With city councils in limbo so soon after the election, municipalities were largely unable to make immediate decisions on how to respond or adapt to Bill 23.  Best’s predecessors are now the ones taking municipalities’ power away. Clark and Graydon Smith, the minister of natural resources who is overseeing the gutting of conservation authority powers proposed by Bill 23, are both former presidents of the association, with long careers in municipal politics before moving to the province. Best says the municipal leaders-turned-ministers have to “show cabinet solidarity and follow the party line which the premier espouses,” but he was still taken aback by the extent of Bill 23’s impact.  We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism. We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism. In mid-February, Best sat down for a Zoom interview with The Narwhal. He was joined by the association’s executive director, Brian Rosborough, a long-time policy advisor to past Ontario governments who now ensures the association acts as a bridge between cities and the province.  In the months since Bill 23 dropped, Best, Rosborough and a long list of mayors and councillors have become the canaries in the coal mine of Ontario politics, sounding the alarm on the unintended consequences of Ford’s housing plan and urging the province to recalibrate its approach. Most focus on the devastation to local governance, though many also highlight the environmental damage potentially set in motion by Bill 23, which weakens or eliminates wetland protections, expert oversight of watersheds and protection of species-at-risk habitat, among other measures aimed at accelerating development.  “Bill 23 was a complete surprise, and did not reflect consultation with Ontario’s cities in any way,” Rosborough said.  As Ontario nears a budget day on March 23, leaders at towns and cities are nervous about what other bombshells the Ford government might be preparing to drop. But they also hope some moves might be positive, since the Ford government has assured cities help is coming to support their ability to create sustainable, emissions-free, transit-friendly cities and maintain the environment. The province has also promised cities won’t be handcuffed by Bill 23.  Here are some issues Best and Rosenborough raised during their hour-long conversation with The Narwhal.  In January, people gathered outside the annual meeting of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association protested against Bill 23, or the More Homes Built Faster Act. Inside, municipal politicians voiced their concerns to provincial ministers. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal Ontario cities and towns want affordable, equitable housing — but many feel the province isn’t listening Last February, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario released a 20-page “blueprint” to address the provincial housing crisis. It had 91 recommendations, the very first of which was a call to work collaboratively across “all orders of government.”  The second recommendation was that the crisis be addressed with “a human rights approach” to address inequities faced by Black, Indigenous, racialized and other marginalized people. The third was that housing be “treated as an essential social good … rather than as a primary means to store and accumulate wealth.”  Best and Rosborough told The Narwhal that Ontario cities have been sounding the alarm on housing affordability — and the effects on the most vulnerable — for many years. The pandemic, and the subsequent massive spike in demand for larger, spacious housing it created, made the issue more urgent for all levels of government. “That took everyone by surprise, and reflected that we didn’t have a supply … and suddenly became a hot political issue for the federal and provincial government,” Rosborough said.  In December 2021, the Ford government put together a housing affordability task force of nine people, including members of the banking, development and real estate industries as well as academic and non-profit representatives. Former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak was on the task force — but not one city official. Rosborough said cities were “categorically excluded,” despite the task force’s focus on changing a planning and infrastructure regime that municipalities shape and execute.  The association was shut out even though it has had a unique memorandum of understanding with the provincial government for over 20 years, which is rooted in collaboration and consultation. Per the agreement, municipal representatives are to meet regularly with cabinet members to ensure the province is making “fully informed decisions,” Rosborough explained. While the association and various mayors and councils are still trying to have those conversations, some have also taken the fight to the public sphere after being locked out of the process.  Best said that because the province’s development plan doesn’t include input from local governments, it fails to help people who need housing most. Since he became president, Ontario mayors have been urging the province to consider development that will address “a massive homelessness crisis” that cities have been trying to address independently through social programs.  In a recent call to action, the association said that while the pandemic exacerbated the problem, the lack of affordable housing is a “made-in-Ontario crisis” caused by three decades of disinterested governments. Its research finds that on any given night at least 16,000 Ontarians experience homelessness, and a disproportionate number of them are Indigenous. Rosborough said he has heard from rural communities that people are “living in seasonal trailer parks and encampments in the woods” and Bill 23 does not address their core needs. Greater Sudbury, Waterloo Region and Peterborough, among many other communities, have been struggling to house encampment residents.  Rosborough told The Narwhal that Ontario spends $2,000 less per person on services and programs than the average of all 12 provinces and territories.  “The homelessness crisis in Ontario is the direct result of provincial indifference and provincial underinvestment,” Rosborough said. “And it can only be solved properly if the [provincial] government is prepared to come to the table with us … and do something about it.” The first gathering of muncipal leaders after the Doug Ford government passed Bill 23 into law was the January 2023 Rural Ontario Municipalities Association conference. Many residents and local leaders wore protest stickers. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal Ontario cities want the ‘essential environmental protections’ Doug Ford is removing The gutting of conservation authority powers has put more responsibility to minimize the environmental impact of development on municipalities and First Nations, without any increase in resources. Because of this, and fear of damage to the natural environment, municipalities and the Chiefs of Ontario have urged the province to roll Bill 23 back.  In its initial response to Bill 23, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario said the bill is “undermining the financial capacity of municipalities to support growth and diminishing essential environmental protections.” At a rural municipal conference in January attended by every provincial minister, Best said “eliminating environmental protections in order to build housing is a false economy” — a term that describes an action that saves money initially but which, over a longer period of time, results in more money being spent. The association has also said that the province is perpetuating “a false premise” that the housing crisis can be fixed by lessening infrastructure funding and environmental protections.  Among the 91 recommendations in its housing blueprint, the association repeatedly asks all levels of government to “foster complete communities,” where the public is made “more aware of the negative impact of sprawl on the environment [and] traffic congestion …” Rosborough told The Narwhal all Ontario cities are concerned that Bill 23 will create unfettered development where people don’t have access to the green space “that they need in order to be a healthy community.” Ontario cities want Doug Ford to think about poop before he scoops the ground for housing With Bill 23, Best said the province is helping the development sector but leaving municipalities to build and establish the essential services needed before construction can get started — water, sewage, transit, parks, electricity, waste — again, without more money.“I’m a former property appraiser. I know that without those services, those houses can’t be built,” Best said. “You can plan all you want, you can do [minister’s zoning orders, known as] MZOs, and open the Greenbelt, and everything else, but unless you have the water and sewers, nothing will be built. We take care of all that.” “We seriously question whether the province’s equation makes sense,” Rosborough added, saying this essential infrastructure is unaffordable without the development charges eliminated by Bill 23. “We think there are some very serious flaws in the equation that says you just need to undermine our existing planning and infrastructure financing framework that has worked for generations to support rapid growth in this province.”  More homes can only be built fast once stormwater, wastewater and energy infrastructure are in place. Those services are funded and constructed by municipalities, whose budgets took a huge hit when Bill 23 cut or froze many development charges. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal Ontario cities want to spend their budgets on residents, not developers By removing municipalities’ ability to charge developers for construction, Bill 23 has also removed much of the funding used for social housing and other services. The association has calculated the More Homes Built Faster Act would transfer $1 billion in costs from developers to taxpayers.  With the costs of providing services increasing, development charges were actually well below what municipalities need to keep up, Best said — they should be rising, not falling. To make up for the shorthall, a number of municipalities have announced property tax increases, the lowest so far at 3 per cent, in Mississauga, and the highest announcement of an 8.55 per cent hike, in Waterloo Region. NDP MPP Jessica Bell is tracking property tax increases and has found that 33 municipalities that have made decisions within this range. Since 1997, municipalities have been subject to an annual financial audit, as cities manage half a trillion dollars in public assets. In the wake of Bill 23 outrage, Housing Minister Steve Clark has said he will be doing a closer audit to find ways to help municipalities after the association asked for consultation and support. Rosborough and Best say they are “very confident in our numbers.” The challenges are great. The province wants Best’s municipality of Milton to build 2,000 homes every year over the next decade. The town has only reached that number twice in the last 20 years. And today, there are 150 planning positions across Ontario cities that are struggling to attract talent and get the construction process started.  When asked in the legislature on March 1 what the government would do to help pay for this infrastructure, Clark didn’t answer directly. Instead he cited an 800 not-for-profit home project in Scarborough that is “moving forward” because of the changes proposed in Bill 23. Best remains skeptical. “If you’re going to cut a billion dollars out of provincial municipalities, we’re going to be in dire straits,” he said. “We’re on the frontlines here.” 

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