Concerns over Bill 23 loom during Heritage Week

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The dialogue around Ontario’s Bill 23 has quieted down in the last few weeks after countless pieces published about it, both in the Times and elsewhere. The controversial Bill is called the “More Homes Built Faster Act”. It has taken criticism from many different angles. Such criticism has been renewed this week as it relates to Heritage Week, which is an annual celebration that takes place in the third week of February. 

Conservation Authorities dislike Bill 23 because it strips them of their powers to prohibit land development where it may cause flooding or the destruction of protected lands. Many members of the public dislike Bill 23 because it limits the input of the public on decisions regarding land-use planning, and has the potential to re-designate needed farmland as residential land. This week in particular, historical societies are criticizing the Bill because of its effect on heritage properties. 

Bill 23 will make it more difficult for municipalities to obtain heritage designations, and will also impose a limit of two years for buildings to remain on heritage registers by being identified as having “heritage potential”. Within the next two years, this could potentially result in thousands of old, historically significant buildings losing their protected status. The Bill also removes requirements for additional considerations when a heritage building is recommended for demolition. 

The More Homes Built Faster Act was created by Doug Ford’s provincial government to “cut red tape” that impedes housing development. The price of buying or renting a home in Canada has become prohibitive for many people in the last few years, driven by a number of factors including too many people and too few homes. Creating more homes – which is the end goal of Bill 23 – would certainly lower the prices of existing real estate, but opponents of the Bill are keen to point out that it goes too far and is too black and white. 

Heritage sites don’t always serve a pragmatic purpose, but they have irreplaceable wisdom and information about the past which has value that is impossible to measure. This week, we are reminded of the importance of learning about our history and learning from it. In the last few years, concerns over past and present relationships with Canada’s Indigenous peoples have also shaped opinions of legislation such as Bill 23, which can negatively impact traditional, unceded territory. First Nations groups in Ontario have spoken out against the Bill. 

The Ontario Government is unlikely to backtrack on Bill 23 on its own. Whether the mounting pressures from many different angles will sway the government’s decision remains to be seen. 

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