August 2-9, 2004

Further action needed to translate Ontario's sustainability plans into reality, study says

Ten months into its mandate, Ontario's new government has made a good start on urban sustainability issues, introducing a series of potentially beneficial initiatives. It has yet to translate any of its key proposals into concrete action, however, says the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development.

This conclusion is presented in a new report, Building Sustainable Urban Communities in Ontario: Towards Implementation?, which assesses the Ontario government's performance on urban sustainability issues against widely accepted 'smart growth' principles and its own October 2003 election platform commitments.

Key achievements during the government's first months in office have included adoption of the Greenbelt Protection Act, commitment of a portion of provincial gasoline tax revenues to public transit, and release of a growth management plan focused on containing urban sprawl for the Golden Horseshoe region. However, says report author Dr Mark Winfield, director of the Institute's Toronto-based environmental governance program, these initiatives have some distance to go before they are implemented.

There is, for example, no formula for the distribution of gasoline tax revenues for transit, which is scheduled to begin in October; the greenbelt legislation is only a temporary freeze on the expansion of urban areas in the Golden Horseshoe, pending the development of final greenbelt plan, and the government's proposals regarding a growth management plan for the region, and the reform of the Ontario Municipal Board remain only proposals.

The report concludes that the government needs to move forward on all of these fronts if it is to fulfill the promise of its election platform to the province's urban communities. It proposes a number of specific steps needed to translate the government's vision for urban communities into reality. In addition to the development of a formula and conditions for distributing provincial gasoline tax revenues to municipalities to support public transit, critical actions include:

The completion of the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt initiative;

The adoption of Bill 26, the Strong Communities Act, along with adoption of a revised provincial policy statement under the Planning Act with sufficient clarify and specificity to actually alter urban development patterns;

The completion and implementation of the Golden Horseshoe growth management plan;

The introduction and adoption of legislation setting out the mandate, role and structure of the proposed Greater Toronto Transit Authority;

The introduction and adoption of legislation setting out the mandate, role and structure of the proposed Ontario Strategic Infrastructure Financial Authority; and

The introduction and adoption of source water protection legislation, including mechanisms for implementing watershed-based source water protection planning and the integration of these mechanisms into the land use planning process.

The report also expresses concern about the possible impact of legacy projects, begun by the previous government, on current efforts to ensure environmentally sustainable long-term urban planning. Funding, planning and approvals for such projects should be suspended at least until the Golden Horseshoe greenbelt initiative is completed and the growth management plan finalized, says the Institute.

The report may be viewed on the Pembina Institute Web site, www.pembina.org. More information is also available from Dr Mark Winfield, 416/978-5656, E-mail markw@pembina.org.

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