The Ontario government calls it the “More Homes, More Choice Act,” but critics worry that the promise of more housing and greater choice will come at too hefty a cost to the environment, particularly to endangered species.
Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019, makes changes to several statutes dealing with planning and urban development, but it also ushers in major changes to Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007 that are still (through May 18, 2019) formally the subject of public consultation on the province’s Environmental Registry. This includes the controversial provision dubbed “pay to slay” by some conservationists. It would allow a proponent to avoid some Endangered Species Act, 2007 prohibitions by paying into a new Species at Risk Conservation Trust whose goal would be to support large-scale actions that assist in species protection and recovery.
The government’s timing could have been better. The May 2, 2019 introduction of Bill 108 was followed shortly by the May 6, 2019 release of a United Nations report warning that a million species now face extinction.
“The timing of this report could not be more damning for a government that is dismantling environmental protections, punctuated by last week’s housing bill that gives big developers the ability to bulldoze the places we love in Ontario,” said Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner in a May 6, 2019 statement.
Ontario Nature accused the government of misleading the public by touting the amendments as improving outcomes for endangered species.
“It's all about pushing aside our most vulnerable plants and animals to make room for sprawling development and unchecked industrial activity. The government is greasing the wheels of destruction,” said Ontario Nature’s Executive Director Caroline Schultz.
Bill 108 also includes amendments to Conservation Authorities that would focus Conservation Authorities’ activities on a core mandate of protecting people and property from flooding and other natural hazards. Once again, though, the government is cursed with poor timing. Bill 108’s introduction also coincided with the cresting of floodwaters along the Ottawa River and in Ontario’s cottage country, and followed the halving of Conservation Authorities’ flood management funding in the April 11, 2019 budget.