By Becky Loi, University of Waterloo, School of Planning Master’s Candidate
On June 28, ULI Toronto held its last event for the 2017/2018 cycle at The Globe and Mail Centre. The “Post-Election: The New Development Landscape” event gathered 12 panelists from across the industry, including planning, law, research, and real estate to share their thoughts on how to adjust to the development and infrastructure agenda of the new provincial government as we are cycling back to the Progressive Conservatives (PC) at the helm of Queens Park after 15 years of Liberal leadership.
Before the panel discussion started, Richard Joy, Executive Director of ULI Toronto also took this occasion to welcome Jennifer Keesmaat, Michelle Ackerman, and Hillary Marshall as the new executive leadership for the management committee for 2018 – 2020.
Next, Douglas Porter, Chief Economist, BMO Financial Group, shared his forecast for the economic outlook for Ontario in his “Trade War… and Peace” presentation. He identified some opportunities for Ontario, including firm population growth, infrastructure spending, and sturdy US demand and a competitive Canadian dollar. However, he also shared some challenges facing the new provincial administration, including trade policy uncertainty and competitiveness in manufacturing.
John Matheson,Principal, Strategy Corp, was the Moderator for the panel discussion. Matheson had served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 1998 and was also the moderator for the panel discussion on navigating a Post-OMB world. The 12 speakers were divided into four panels, namely Regional Policy, Development Approvals, Real Estate Landscape, and Infrastructure and Transit.
Matheson pointed out that on the campaign trail, land use was not one of the main points of Premier Ford’s platform. Ford did touch on creating more housing by suggesting that the the protected lands of the Greenbelt be opened up for housing development. However, due to the backlash from the public, Ford backtracked.
So will he open up the Greenbelt again now that he is premier? Burkhard Mausberg, (CEO, Grow Ontario Together) thinks that it will not be likely in the short term. Mausberg believes that Ford knows that the Greenbelt is near and dear to the people of Ontario, and opening it to development would undercut Ford’s claim of listening to the people.
As this strategy is off the table, the new administration could look to other avenues, such as cutting red tape and streamlining the approvals process. Emma West, (Partner, Bousfields Inc) pointed out that to increase the supply of housing, we need to fill the gap of the missing middle types of housing. West mentioned that the Yellow Belt represents up to 62% of all residential areas in Toronto. She added that “the longer it’s going to take you to get through an approvals process, the more challenging it’s going to be for you to follow through with that project if you’re trying to build affordable housing or that missing-middle piece.”
Marcy Burchfield (Executive Director, NEPTIS Foundation) had advice in the same vein, suggesting pre-approvals and pre-zoning of certain densities that fit within the current policy framework. Mausberg concluded by calling for municipal flexibility and a regionally coordinated approach.
Regarding what to expect with the new provincial leadership, Jane Pepino, (Partner, Aird & Berlis LLP) predicted that there will be no legislative or regulatory changes for a couple of years. Mark Noskiewicz (Partner, Goodmans LLP) thinks that a lot of people are hopeful that the Conservatives will be rolling back Bill 139 but he added that he thinks that it is unlikely. He added that it is too early to tell whether the changes introduced will be as catastrophic as people seem to think. This was echoed by Signe Leisk (Partner, Cassels Brock LLP) who agreed that we need to give new policies and legislation time to play out to see their impact before making changes.
Bill 139 was passed late last year by the previous Liberal government. Noskiewicz, thinks that “people believe (it) has swung the pendulum, giving municipalities more leverage in the approvals process than developers have, but interestingly, the province has really retained all of its powers under the Planning Act.” Noskiewicz explained that under Bill 139, when municipalities conduct conformity exercises to align their official plans with provincial plans, there are no rights of appeal when a decision is made within a set timeframe. He gave the example of the Yonge-Eglinton area, where there are concerns that the city has kept densities around major transit station areas too low. It would be interesting to see how the province will handle that.
Real Estate Landscape
Scott Addison (President, Brokerage Services Canada, Colliers International) started the discussion by saying that there is some optimism with the new administration.
Speaking on housing affordability, David Wilkes (President & CEO, BILD) pointed out that up to 25% of the cost of a project can be attributed to government taxes and fees. He said that the Building Industry and Land Development Association will be drawing the new government’s attention to such issues, with a focus on fees and taxes faced by home buyers and the red tape that ties up housing supply. As we grapple with the change in leadership, constructive conflict can be useful. Having the tough, but right conversations can help move the industry forward.
Cherise Burda (Executive Director, Ryerson City Building Institute) discussed both the supply and demand of housing in Ontario. Burda predicts that on the supply side, the new government will get more supply into the market, but she posed the question “will a ripping of tape or streamlining of approvals or other policies be targeted toward building the right supply in the right places, or will it just be build everything everywhere, as much as we can?” She pointed out that while we have 100,000 condo units coming down the pipeline in the GTA, the majority of these are one-bedrooms in high-rise mainly being sold to investors. Many still cling to the dream of living in detached houses, but fewer and fewer are being built. And when detached homes are built, they’re typically farther away in the greenfield and not in desirable areas where people want to live. To bridge the gap between housing type and location preferences, she suggested that instead of just cost-effectiveness, provincial policies should focus on improving the cost-effectiveness of building medium density options that are close to transit, jobs, and amenities.
Infrastructure and Transit Panel
When it comes to infrastructure and transit, there are a few crucial questions, like what to build and where? And how do we pay for it? And how do we approach the value for money calculation?
Iain Dobson (Co-Founder, Strategic Regional Research Alliance) explained that congestion is a reality of growth. As the population of Ontario continues to grow, we have to keep adapting and adjusting, while considering the existing transit network. The new administration’s Regional Transportation Network is a step in the right direction.
Mark Romoff (President & CEO, Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships) pointed out that there is no doubt that Ontario has a large infrastructure deficit. But we are working towards narrowing that gap. The previous government had allocated about $190 billion over 13 years to expand and renew Ontario’s infrastructure. Infrastructure Ontario is also recognized globally for how they procure infrastructure. As traditional procurement methods can take longer, newer methods like P3 could be helpful.
Rowan Mills (Transaction Advisory Leader – Canada, ARUP) added that transit infrastructure like subways can come with a big price tag. To pay for this, the new government could tap into some emerging methods like new revenue tools or engaging with private capital.