Issue In Brief: Understanding the Carbon Tax

The debate around the carbon tax frequently misses its broader economic and environmental benefits.

Understanding the carbon tax, what it is and how it functions, is crucial if we are to make a smart decision about its future.

Introduction

The leader of the Conservative Party, along with several provincial premiers, has been vocal in urging the federal government to “axe the [carbon] tax” and to postpone planned increases. They contend that the carbon tax is not only ineffective, but also exacerbates inflation and deepens the affordability crisis for Canadians.

This illustration image of Poilievre combines a frame from a now notorious engagement where he belittled a journalist while eating an apple, with a photo of a forest fire added as a backdrop, in place of the orchard.

Federal Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, has made trashing the carbon tax a central theme of his electoral strategy.

This illustration of Poilievre combines a frame from a now notorious engagement where he belittled a journalist while eating an apple, with a photo of a forest fire added as a backdrop, in place of the orchard.

Understanding Externalities

To start, let’s develop an understanding of what the carbon tax does.

An externality occurs when a person or business’s actions have effects on others that are not accounted for in the cost of those actions. These can be positive (benefits not compensated) or negative (costs not accounted for).

For example, pollution from a factory can affect the health and property values of people living nearby, but these costs are not reflected in the price of the factory’s products. This is a negative externality. Conversely, a homeowner planting a garden improves the neighbourhood’s appearance and biodiversity, benefiting others without direct compensation, illustrating a positive externality.

The Carbon Tax: A Tool for Internalizing Externalities

The carbon tax is designed to address the negative externality of carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change and its associated costs on society and the environment. By putting a price on carbon emissions, it “internalizes” these external costs, making businesses and consumers more mindful of their carbon footprint.

The principle is straightforward: the more you pollute, the more you pay. This incentivizes cleaner energy use and investment in greener technologies without dictating specific methods for achieving these reductions.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the carbon tax is it is addressing costs that are placed on the public, in the form of air pollution and climate change, which are the result of activity that private companies, like oil and gas producers, profit wildly from. All a carbon tax is doing is correcting a market failure that has been exploited to make a few rich, at the expense of the rest of us (not to mention future generations).

Correcting a Market Failure

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about the carbon tax is it addresses costs placed on the public, in the form of air pollution and climate change. These costs are the result of activity that private companies, like oil and gas producers, profit wildly from.

All a carbon tax is doing is correcting a market failure, which has been exploited to make a few people very rich at the expense of the rest of us (not to mention future generations).

Economic Perspective on Carbon Tax

In response to the claims made by Conservative Party leader, Poilievre, as well as others, more than 300 economists published an open letter voicing support for the carbon tax, highlighting its efficacy in reducing emissions in a cost-effective way and with minimal impact on inflation.

Yes, the carbon tax is helping reduce emissions

A recent study by the Canadian Climate Institute estimates that carbon pricing will reduce GHG emissions by between 19 and 22 megatonnes per year by 2030. This is about 10% of the share of currently legislated reductions achieved overall, and is the equivalent to the total annual GHG emissions of Manitoba.

This is 10% reduction is that achieved under current legislation, which brings us to roughly 549 Mt by 2030. The Paris Agreement goal Canada has committed to, of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030, would see us at 440 Mt. In other words, when the high degree of difficulty of the endeavour is considered, that 10% reduction becomes even more significant.

This chart, using data from the Canadian Climate Institute, shows high and low estimates of the impact that different policies are likely to have on the amount of GHG emissions in Canada.

The Carbon Tax, noted here as “Fuel charge”, is an important part of a suite of tools needed to bring emissions down.

Even so, as outlined on the emissions forecast chart, below, more needs to be done.

Addressing Misconceptions

Perhaps the most prominent argument opponents of the carbon tax have made is that it is making life more expensive.

The government has a few things going against it when it comes to countering these claims.

There are obvious and unhelpful connotations that come with anything called a “tax”, and in that respect (as well as in others) the government has done a pretty poor job marketing the policy.

Then there’s the experience of high inflation post-pandemic, which remains a big concern for many, and rightly so.

Fuel, and a degree of legitimacy, was added to this argument last summer with a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) that, on its surface, seems to confirm that the carbon tax is a net cost for Canadians.

While the answers the report provides aren’t strictly wrong, the questions it asks, are.

The PBO looked at two broad factors – whether the carbon tax paid and the rebate received resulted in individuals having more or less money at the end of the day.

For this question it found that yes, the carbon tax, combined with the rebate, known then as the “Climate Action Incentive Payment”, resulted in more money for the majority of Canadians. (Moreover, the rebate program is progressive, meaning that, by giving more to those with lower incomes, it also helps to address economic disparity.)

The second question the PBO looked at was whether, once the carbon tax was factored into economic productivity, and the gains that Canadians could expect under growth scenarios without a carbon tax, whether, in such a scenario, they would have more or less money.

For this, second, question, the PBO found that when the growth + carbon tax scenario was compared to the growth – carbon tax scenario, Canadians would have more money in the one without a carbon tax.

Astonishingly, what the PBO did not do was include modelling of the costs that climate change will have on Canadians and how those costs will impact the growth scenarios used.

The Costs of Inaction

The thing with climate change is that it’s an escalating cost, and the more that it is left unaddressed, the more those costs pile up.

In addition, tipping points, such as thawing permafrost, which has the potential to release vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more portent than carbon, add a high degree of uncertainty to future efforts to successful address climate change. Policies that assume certain scenarios to calculate emission reductions could be rendered meaningless in the event of such tipping points. Another way of understanding risk is as potential costs, which need to be hedged against.

Close-up photo of a black swan's head nestled in it's feathers. Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

A black swan event is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their extreme rarity, severe impact, and the widespread insistence they were obvious in hindsight/

Tipping points can be understood as potential black swan events.

Black swan events can be difficult to guard against, as costs associated with building resilience, such as with redundancies, are often hard to sell politically.

Furthermore, successfully guarding against a black swan event means that it doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen to as great an extent as was feared. The justification for the expense, or helping the public understand it was worthwhile, thus, is often hard to make, even though the benefit of the avoided black swan far outweighs the likely cost.

The chart below, which uses data from a study by the Institute for Sustainable Finance, outlines costs that are relatively certain based on four different scenarios, of 2°, 3°, 4°, and 5° warming.

The total costs for Canada associated with the different scenarios are represented at the bottom of the chart, and are more than $5 trillion by the end of the century under a 5° scenario.

The longer we delay addressing climate change, the greater the cost will be. This table uses a heatmap to illustrate that inaction will ultimately end up costing us far more.

In its study, the PBO assumes a business-as-usual annual GDP growth of 1.72%. With Canada’s current GDP of $1.72 trillion, that comes out to $2.52 trillion by 2030.

Running the scenario that the PBO uses to estimate the most aggressive cost, which uses a carbon tax rate of $239 per tonne, provides an estimate of a 0.62% reduction to GDP growth, results in a $2.35 trillion, a difference of $17 billion.

As you can see on the table above, that puts the cost right in the range of the 2°/3° warming scenarios of 2030.

Now factor in additional costs associated with the fossil fuel industry, such as stranded wells (currently well in excess of $33 billion in Alberta alone), and air pollution (estimated by Health Canada to cost Canadians $120 billion per year) and it quickly becomes apparent that actions to reduce fossil fuel emissions are a no-brainer when it comes to value for the Canadian taxpayer.

The Costs of Inaction

In its study, the PBO assumes a business-as-usual annual GDP growth of 1.72%. With Canada’s current GDP of $1.72 trillion, that comes out to $2.52 trillion by 2030.

Running the scenario that the PBO uses to estimate the most aggressive cost, which uses a carbon tax rate of $239 per tonne, provides an estimate of a 0.62% reduction to GDP growth, results in a $2.35 trillion, a difference of $17 billion.

As you can see on the table above, that puts the cost right in the range of the 2°/3° warming scenarios of 2030.

Now factor in additional costs associated with the fossil fuel industry, such as stranded wells (currently well in excess of $33 billion in Alberta alone), and air pollution (estimated by Health Canada to cost Canadians $120 billion per year) and it quickly becomes apparent that actions to reduce fossil fuel emissions are a no-brainer when it comes to value for the Canadian taxpayer.

Different GHG emission forecasts by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

According to ECCC, “the “Reference Case” scenario includes federal, provincial, and territorial policies and measures that were in place as of August 2023 and assume no further government action.”

Event with the most optimistic scenario, which is the “Additional Measures Scenario”, which includes all current and fully implemented announced policies, as well as contributions from land -use, forestry, nature-based climate solutions, and credits through the Western Climate Initiative, we still fall short of meeting our global commitments.

Conclusion

The debate around the carbon tax frequently misses its broader economic and environmental benefits.

By effectively addressing the externality of carbon emissions, the carbon tax stands as a critical component of Canada’s strategy to combat climate change and promote sustainable growth.

Clear communication and understanding of the policy’s benefits, including the progressive rebate program, are vital in navigating public concerns and fostering support for this essential environmental initiative.

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Catherine McKenna is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Climate and Nature Solutions. She is Canada’s former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, as well as Minister of Infrastructure. She is Chair of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments of Non-State Entities which released its Integrity Matters report at COP 27 in Egypt in 2022 setting out criteria for net-zero commitments of business, financial institutions, cities and regions.

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Analysis: More Homes Built Faster Act

Changes that put people and their property at risk.

Context

Recent moves by Ontario’s government seem likely to create conditions for a number of crises in the next few decades that, when combined, are greater than the sum of their parts. This is what’s known as a “polycrisis”, a term popularized by economic historian Adam Tooze.

Cost of living concerns, including housing, food, and energy prices, pressure on natural resources and pollution, congestion and accessibility in an economy increasingly reliant on just-in-time delivery standards, a growing infrastructure deficit combined with a lack of attention at the highest levels of government to building more efficient communities are just some of the issues coming to a head. Furthermore, the growing reality of a climate supportive regulatory framework internationally also threatens to leave behind an Ontario led by a government that continues to regress on climate action.

Chart by the IMF showing the impact that delayed climate policy is likely to have on global GDP. Credit IMF.

This chart from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows the impact to GDP of delayed climate action.

The Ontario government has shown an almost antagonistic stance towards decarbonization, which places it offside both in the effort to reduce GHG pollution and in the emerging low-carbon economy.

Ironically, the government’s often stated goal of providing certainty in the market, though this tends to be directed mostly at the housing market, is undercut by its capricious decision to slash clean energy programs.

It’s widely understood that Ontario is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. According to the province’s Housing Affordability Task Force the price of housing in Ontario has nearly tripled over the past 10 years, from $329,000 in 2011 to $923,000 in 2021, putting home ownership out of reach for many. This is an increase in the price of housing of 180%. Over the same period of time the average income in Ontario has grown by just 38%.

It’s worth noting that this government, which presumably struck the Housing Affordability Task Force for the purpose of providing solutions to the affordability crisis, recently threatened to override with the Notwithstanding Clause the labour rights of education workers seeking wage increases in line with inflation. This would have maintained downward pressure on the income of 10s of thousands of Ontarians, making it impossible for them to participate in the housing market.

Upward pressure on house prices was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when many more wealthy property owners situated in urban areas sought to relocate to rural areas, but pressure has been building outside of that time period as well, and it is argued that this is due in large part to too few homes being built, causing a lack of supply in the market.

The Smart Prosperity Institute, who, it should be noted, is a prominent proponent of the lack of supply argument, released a report in October of 2021, almost exactly a year prior to introduction of the Act, stating that Ontario needs to build 1 million new homes over the next 10 years. This figure is extrapolated from Ministry of Finance estimates for population growth, of 2.27 million more people in Ontario, through that same period. This calculation assumes an average household size of slightly less than 2.5 people.

Proposed Changes

Introduced October 25, 2022, the More Homes Built Faster Act (the Act) is meant to achieve the goal, the government claims, of facilitating construction of 1.5 million new homes in Ontario by 2031. This is an omnibus bill, which includes changes to nine different acts, including:

  • the City of Toronto Act, 
  • the Conservation Authorities Act, 
  • the Development Charges Act, 
  • the Municipal Act, 
  • the New Home Construction Licensing Act, 
  • the Ontario Heritage Act, 
  • the Ontario Land Tribunal Act, 
  • the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, 
  • the Planning Act, and
  • the Supporting Growth and Housing in York and Durham Regions Act.

In the press release announcing the Act the government states that it will be seeking input on integrating the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) as well as the Growth Plan into a “single, provincewide planning policy document.” While this is not part of the Act, it has been posted to the Environmental Registry for a period of public comment that closes December 30th.

Municipal Planning

The Act proposes an upper limit on the percentage of units that can be required to be affordable, at 5%, with a maximum number of years that the unit must remain affordable at 25. Putting this into context, the City of Toronto recently proposed inclusionary zoning that requires 22% of units to be affordable, with a maintenance at affordable levels of 99 years.

Units considered to be affordable are generally defined as those costing no more than 80% of the average cost of units, whether the price to purchase or rent it, in the year said unit is rented or sold. This begs the question of whether units already categorized as affordable are included in this calculation. If so, the lowering of the maximum allowed could place upward pressure on prices, including those considered affordable, due to the lower, more more diluted number of units built to meet that definition, as well as the increasing cost of market rate housing comprising the averaged figure.

In other words, this lower maximum may have the effect of diluting the number of affordable units included in the calculation, increasing the amount of what classifies as affordable.

All upper tier municipalities in the GTA, as well as Waterloo and Simcoe, will no longer have approval authority for Official Plans or their Amendments under the Planning Act. Such approvals could be appealed by residents, community organizations, as well as developers, but with their removal from the process the final approval authority goes to the Minister, where there is no possibility of appeal.

Removing planning responsibility from Regions and Simcoe County places it with, in the case of Simcoe, municipalities that are often quite small with few dedicated and knowledgeable planning or legal staff. This, paired with the potential reduction of revenue due to the changes in DCs (outlined below), as well as the potential for costs awarded by the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), may create a dynamic of uncertainty with respect to expertise, as well as concern regarding exposure to costs, on the part of municipalities challenging or attempting to guide development applications. This seems likely to have a chilling effect on municipal engagement in planning our communities on behalf of the public’s interest.

Affordable housing, attainable housing (for which the government says a definitional category will come in future regulation), and inclusionary zoning units will be exempt from Development Charges (DCs), Community Benefit Charges (CBCs), and parkland dedication requirements.

Site plan control allows municipalities to require elements, such as landscaping with trees and rain catchment features, that provide cooling, reducing reliance on air conditioners, as well as water filtration and absorption.

These are features that help mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve the quality of life for residents, and lower costs for municipalities.

All aspects of site plan control, which is a tool municipalities use to “evaluate certain site elements, such as walkways, parking areas, landscaping or exterior design on a parcel of land where development is proposed”, will be removed from all proposals that are less than 10 units. Furthermore, municipalities will be limited generally in their ability to determine architectural and landscape design details.

Limiting site plan authority is likely to result in municipalities being unable to implement climate friendly standards, such as Toronto’s Green Standard (TGS). The TGS is meant to help Toronto achieve community wide net zero carbon emissions by 2040, by “[limiting] GHG emissions from newly constructed buildings, providing electric vehicle charging in parking spaces and enhancing stormwater management and landscape requirements.” Since implemented 12 years ago the TGS has reduced Toronto’s GHG emissions by the equivalent of 52,000 cars worth every year. The landscaping component of site plan control, for example, can require trees, which give shade that helps reduce the need for air conditioning, as well as sequester carbon dioxide. Rain water gardens can help reduce flooding and improve water quality. Electric vehicle charging stations can also be mandated as part of site plan control.

“As of right” zoning would be implemented province-wide in settlement areas zoned residential with full water and sewage servicing, allowing for up to 3 units per lot with no restriction on unit size. Municipalities would be prohibited from imposing DCs, parkland, or in lieu requirements or requiring more than one parking space per additional unit.

Parks

The amount of land that can be conveyed or paid in lieu to the municipality to satisfy parkland requirements is capped at 10% for smaller developments (under 5ha) and 15% for developments larger than 5ha.

What constitutes parkland has been broadened to include privately owned accessible spaces, as well as open spaces on top of structures.

Development Charges

Any Development Charge (DC) rate increase will now be phased in over 5 years.

The historical service level for capital costs, which helps determine the rate charged, is extended from 10 to 15 years.

The effect of extending the period of time by which the rate is calculate is that it smooths the curve and, by reflecting more of the past than the present, seems likely to reduce the rate slightly.

Interest paid on DCs for rental, institutional, and non-profit housing will be capped at prime plus 1%. There will be additional inducements for purpose built rental, including a discount, freeze and deferral on DC payment over five years.

The cost of studies, including background studies, will no longer be eligible for recovery through DCs.

Municipalities will be required to spend at least 60% of DC reserve balance on priority infrastructure at the start of each year.

The ERO notice states that this is for “water, wastewater, and roads.” There is no mention of transit or other infrastructure types, except that a “regulation making authority would be provided to prescribe additional priority services…in the future.”

Transit

Municipalities will need to update zoning to set minimum heights and densities in major transit stations areas (MTSAs). Municipalities would be required to update zoning laws to allow as-of-right zoning for this increased density within one year of passage of the MTSA or Protected MTSA (PMTSA).

Capital costs that are eligible to be recovered through DCs will be determined by a longer period of time, with the historical service level extended to 15 years rather than 10 years. This would not apply to transit, however.

The separation between using a historical record for general DC rates of 15 years, from the current 10 years, and that used for transit, which remains at 10 years, has the same effect, noted above, of smoothing out and likely lowering the rate calculated over the longer time period.

In other words, car oriented service levels, and the capital costs municipalities are able to recover for them, are likely to be reduce vis transit service levels, creating further incentive for car infrastructure and sprawl at the expense of transit.

Car oriented infrastructure is far less efficient that mass transit and walkable communities. According to recent figures from the Financial Accountability Office, Ontario municipalities have an infrastructure deficit of $52 billion. Being smarter about how we use space in urban areas can increase efficiency and help reduce this backlog. Further expanding car oriented development, however, seems likely to only exacerbate the problem and further stress municipal capacity.

Infographic showing how much more space is required for cars, vs buses and metros for urban transportation. Credit: International Association of Public Transport
Credit: International Association of Public Transport

Conservation Authorities

The Act will repeal 36 regulations that allow Conservation Authorities (CAs) to oversee and regulate development. As a result permits from CAs will no longer be required for development authorized under the Planning Act within (formerly) regulated areas, including wetlands.

The changes mean that CA responsibilities will be narrowed to focus strictly on natural hazards and flooding, and that they will no longer be able to consider “pollution” and “conservation of land” when assessing a proposed development.

CAs are currently responsible for mitigating natural hazards and flooding risk, but, in areas such as flood risk mapping, some CAs have available mapping while others, including the NVCA and LSRCA, do not. This may have to do with a lack of resources, but narrowing their focus in this regard may not cause them to be more effective in producing results so long as municipalities, which provide funding to CAs, are constrained in their revenue generation. Municipal revenue generation may, in fact, be further constrained by the changes proposed in this Act.

Conservation of land is mentioned numerous times in the Conservation Act but never explicitly defined. Where this relates most closely to the current mandate of CAs is with respect to their ability to protect, manage and restore woodlands, wetlands, and natural habitat by placing such areas off limits to development or activity that might otherwise negatively impact them.

It’s noteworthy that when the current core mandate of CAs is considered, that they “undertake watershed-based programs to protect people and property from flooding and other natural hazards, and to conserve natural resources for economic, social and environmental benefits”, the removal of the mandate outside of the strict flooding and natural hazard responsibilities seems to either place the utility of “natural resources for economic, social, and environmental benefits” elsewhere, presumably with the development sector, or to simply negate it altogether.

One consequence of removing the conservation of land role of CAs is that, in addition maintain the integrity of natural systems they also provide recreational opportunities and programs, providing areas where the public can experience nature and partake in programming aimed at enhancing our understanding of and connection to the important roles that natural systems play in our society and economy. According to Conservation Ontario an average of 35% of CA revenue comes from fees generated through delivery of these programs, as well as other activities, such as fees from developers for permits, that also seem likely to be cut. For some CAs, such as the Grand River Conservation Authority, self generated fees make up 50% of their yearly revenue.

CAs will also be required to issue development permits for projects authorized under the province’s Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator, a newly created power very similar to a MZO, which grants the Minister authority to make an order, at the request of a single or lower tier municipality, expediting zoning approval so that a development may proceed. This only applies outside of the Greenbelt area.

The changes to the CAs are meant to reduce the “financial burden on developers and landowners making development-related applications and seeking permits”, a leaked document obtained by The Narwal says.

Furthermore, CAs, currently required to complete a conservation strategy and land inventory under O. Reg. 686/21, will be now required to include in that inventory a category of lands that could support housing development. This detail, which is not included in the Act, is noted on the ERO posting and outlines how such lands would be identified by consideration of “the current zoning, and the extent to which the parcel or portions of the parcel may augment natural heritage land or integrate with provincially or municipally owned land or publicly accessible lands and trails.”

Ironically, as the Narwal points out, the government itself notes in the leaked cabinet document that “the federal Parliamentary Budget Office has credited Ontario’s floodplain and hazard management policies and programs, including the role of [conservation authorities], with keeping losses associated with flooding in Ontario lower than losses seen in other Canadian provinces.”

Further, highlighting the value of what CAs do, the Insurance Bureau of Canada just released research finding that “the disclosure of natural hazard and climate risk is urgently needed in the Canadian housing market because of the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters.” The Bureau is calling for a “climate score” metric that would indicate the exposure of a property to the risk of climate impacts.

Wetlands

Major changes will happen with how Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs) are assessed. Currently wetlands, when assessed (not all are), are given a score based on criteria including biological, social, hydrological, and special features. Wetlands that score above 600 combined, or above 200 on either the biological or special features component, are categorized as PSWs.

Smaller wetlands can no longer be assessed as an interconnected complex. This means that only individual wetlands at least 4 hectares in size will be assessed.

Wetlands smaller than 4 hectares were not allowed to be assessed under the previous scoring system, but they could be complexed together with other nearby smaller wetlands as a system of wetlands. This was crucial for protecting habitat for species such as the Jefferson Salamander, which prefers smaller wetlands of roughly .5 ha.

Points can no longer be awarded based on the presence of SAR. This means that wetlands that have been scored as PSWs due to the presence of SAR will now be downgraded, which means that they can be developed upon.

MNR biologists used to be responsible for rating wetlands. This responsibility is being removed and placed with municipalities.

The government plans to use offsetting so that if a wetland is built upon, a wetland elsewhere will be created. The goal is for there to be a “net gain” in natural heritage features this way. Developers who build on wetlands would pay into a fund, which would then be used to ‘compensate’ elsewhere for the loss of that wetland.

The approach misunderstands how ecosystems work, assuming them to be interchangeable blocks that can be swapped out without any loss in system function. The language of the discussion paper seems to acknowledge this, stating that “the result of an offsetting policy should be a net gain in natural heritage area and/or function.” The simple focus on natural heritage area through the use of “or” allows for the exclusion of function as a net gain requirement.

In Southern Ontario an estimated 72% of wetlands that were originally present have been lost. Loss in particularly acute in southwestern Ontario, where about 85% of wetlands have been converted to other uses. Source: Ontario Biodiversity Council

In Southern Ontario an estimated 72% of wetlands that were originally present have been lost.

Loss in particularly acute in southwestern Ontario, where about 85% of wetlands have been converted to other uses.

Source: Ontario Biodiversity Council

Public Participation

Third parties, such as residents, community organizations, and nonprofits, will no longer be allowed to appeal any Planning Act decisions. This means that only the applicant, municipality, certain public bodies, such as Indigenous communities or utility providers that have participated in the development process, and the Minister will be able to appeal decisions to the Ontario Land Tribunal.

Public meetings for subdivision plans will no longer be required.

Public participation in planning is already at a disadvantage. Members of the public have to use their own time and energy, on top of work and family duties, to participate. Developers, on other hand, are paid for their time, have access to the expertise of highly paid lawyers and planners, and can leverage relationships built with elected representatives and staff over long periods of time.

Some will argue that reducing public participation in planning will help to counter NIMBYs. Given the existing barriers it seems just as likely that wealthy and connected NIMBYs will continue to be able to prevent development they don’t desire from happening, while those with less access, namely more marginalized communities, will be left without recourse.

Additional Comments

The leaked cabinet document also provided an overview of how the Act is expected to be received by the public and other stakeholders highlights opposition is expected, noting:

“Reaction from agricultural and environmental sectors likely to be strongly negative due to potential impacts on environmental protection, increased loss and fragmentation of prime agricultural lands, subsequent negative impacts to the agri-food sector, and increased allocations of land for housing and other urban uses.”

It goes on to state that the changes are welcomed by developers:

“[The] Development sector would support simplification of the policy framework with a goal to increase housing supply, but would be concerned if changes result in delays to development applications.”

It’s worth noting that increasing housing supply can be accomplished in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) within the currently designated greenlands area. Greenfield is defined by the province as “lands within settlement areas (not including rural settlements) but outside of delineated built-up areas that have been designated in an official plan for development”.

Unused greenfield in the GTHA is estimated to be 350 square kilometers.

Statistics Canada calculates the average density of Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) in Canada to be 5,385 people per square kilometer. (The downtown CMA with the highest density is Vancouver, with 18,837 residents per square kilometer. Toronto has 16,608 per square kilometer. Barrie has 2,389.) Factoring these two metrics provides a potential for 1,884,750 residents in currently designated greenfield in the GTHA.

While it is unlikely that the entirety of the unused greenfield would be developed to the density of Toronto’s downtown core, which would see 5,812,800 people accommodated, a combination of increasing densification as missing middle in currently developed areas with a similar style of development in the greenfield would allow for Ontario to easily meet projected population growth for the entire province, and this in the GTHA alone. Including development of greenfield outside of the GTHA only makes this easier.

Ultimately this makes clear that no additional land is needed to meet housing demand for the foreseeable future, and that moves to do so are the result of political choices made rather than necessity.

Affordability

The contrast between the stated goal of addressing housing affordability, the limitations placed on municipalities ability to ensure affordable housing is provided through inclusionary zoning, the hard line it is taking on wage growth in the public sector while accepting the concerns expressed by the Housing Affordability Task Force that a key part of the problem is the growing gap between house prices and income, in concert with the leaked cabinet document that notes the likelihood of widespread opposition from environmental, First Nation, and community groups indicates that this is a government that is compromised. While progressing with somewhat sound, evidence-based or well-reasoned policy in some areas, it is clear given the extent and magnitude of changes proposed here, and the degree to which they conflict with guidance and policy previously developed, that this is a government highly exposed to influence from a relatively narrow set of special interests.

This is concerning given the increasing risks that Ontario will face in a rapidly changing and uncertain world, in which costs will to a great extent be determined by how well communities and society is prepared to respond and recover prior to events and impacts occurring.

The fact that as a population grows stresses AND reliance increase on natural resources, for example, and that these resources, including a healthy Ontario-based agriculture system that is able to provide food to reduce potential shocks and price fragility associated with international supply chains, seems to be completely missing from the province’s assessment of what is needed for Ontario’s future.

The loss of farmland in Ontario at current rates may bring food sovereignty from the current ratio of roughly 2/1 food production potential to people, down to nearly 1/1 by 2046, and a loss of food sovereignty by 2055.1Food supply is calculated as the amount of people that the food an acre of farmland can produce can support, which is derived from a study by Cassidy et all (2013), titled Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare, and equals 2.18 people per acre. Total farmland in Ontario is calculated by MPAC at 14,154,981 acres in 2021. The rate of farmland loss is calculated by Statistics Canada’s Census of Agriculture (2021) at 116,435 acres per year.

It should be noted that climate impacts to Ontario’s agriculture productivity are anticipated to be a mix of positives and negatives. Ontario is likely to experience longer growing seasons, which will boost productivity. However there will be more droughts, pest concerns, storm damage, as well, all of which increase the instability of the system. For the chart below we maintained a business as usual scenario, leaving out the likely increase in farmland loss that will result from the changes proposed by this government, to reflect both the possible increase in productivity as well as the increased instability. To our mind instability – specifically the risk of “Black Swan” events that increased uncertainty carries – outweighs any benefit Ontario may experience. (And again, this government has stated that certainty is a goal.)

The value derived from building in a way that enhances resilience through access to a multitude of opportunities, including transportation options that enable residents to get to places of employment cheaply and reliably, or varied and diverse social connections, which greatly enhance creativity and innovation, or the co-benefits to healthcare that can be realized from being able to walk to nearby amenities, and this is to name just a few, also seems to be missing from this government’s consideration. These are the ingredients that will combine to create success in the future, but they are for the most part absent or mentioned only as window dressing.

These contradictions and counterproductive positions in the province’s policy with respect to housing and the environment illustrate the value of overarching planning.

Michael Tolensky, chief financial and operating officer at the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, told The Narwhal in a written statement. “Legislation permitting developers to profit at the expense of long-term public safety and community resiliency is purposefully shortsighted.”

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Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

The impact of new highways on the Greenbelt is likely to be felt far and wide, our mapping shows.

Highway Construction and Aggregate Mining in the Greenbelt

Aggregate Mining in the Greenbelt

New research released by Gravel Watch Ontario, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and Environmental Defence suggest that massive amounts of aggregates for the Bradford Bypass and 413 highways will come from pits in the 905 and the Greenbelt.

Mining these aggregates will have serious impacts on nearby communities and must be addressed in environmental reviews of the proposed highways.

According to the research, building the two highways will require approximately 3 million tonnes of new aggregate, and will increase truck traffic within affected communities by over 130,000 truckloads during construction.

The analysis shows that several communities within the 905 region are more at risk of becoming the future source of the highways’ aggregate because of their proximity to the proposed routes of the highways, the amount of potential aggregate resources available, and concentration of existing permits within particular areas.

Highlights

  • A total of 288 square kilometers within the study area is dedicated to active aggregate pits;
  • 39% of aggregate sites within the study area are found within the Greenbelt’s boundaries, while the Greenbelt covers only 29% of the study area;
  • Caledon, Adjala-Tosorontio, and Whitchurch-Stouffville, are likely to be impacted by aggregate demands for these projects the most;
  • Unrehabilitated site data from the government is unreliable, with record dates limited to a time between 2006 and 2010. Viewing sites with satellite imagery show a use-mix of what look like former aggregate pits, agricultural lands, and residential areas;
  • Furthermore, some sites overlap with each other.
Map: Municipal Vulnerability to Aggregate Activity for New Highway Construction in the GTA
Map of municipalities within a 50 km area around the Bradford Bypass and 413 highways showing their vulnerability do aggregate mining for related construction resources. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Click for larger version.

This choropleth map is segmented by municipality, and weighted according to a scoring system that combines four scores:

  • “PER_SCORE”, which is the percent of the municipality’s area covered by sand and gravel resources, excluding built up areas;
  • “DIST_SCORE”, which is a measure of the distance that the municipality is from the respective projects;
  • “TON_SCORE”, which is a measure of the total tonnage allowed in the municipality;
  • and “DEP_SCORE”, which is a measure of the depths of the sand and gravel resources contained within the municipality.

PER_SCORE

For the PER_SCORE the sand and gravel mapping, which were separate files, were combined, the built up areas in the municipality were then subtracted from the combined file, and the result was then measured as a percent of the total area of the municipality. Scores are from 1 to 4, representing 25% increments.

DIST_SCORE

The distance scores are derived from the 20 kilometre and the 50 kilometre distances from the proposed projects. The 50 kilometer radius from the projects is based on a conservative estimate, provided by Gravel Watch Ontario, of the distance from which aggregate resources are normally sourced for projects, with that distance sometimes being expanded outward to 70 kilometers. A score of 2 was given if the municipality was within the 20 kms radius, and 1 if it was within the 50 kms radius. For municipalities within the 20 km radii of both projects a total of 4 was given, and likewise, if a municipality was within the 20 km radius of one project and the 5 km radius of another, it got a score of 3.

TON_SCORE

The tonnage score is based on a decile, with municipalities receiving a score of between 1 and 10, where 10 represents the highest total tonnage permitted within the municipality.

DEP_SCORE

A depth score of aggregate resources based on mapping by the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) was included to give an additional metric of impact. Depth data are provided by OGS in four categories: Less than 1.5m; 1.5m to 3m; 3m to 6m; and Greater than 6m. DEP_SCORES were apportioned from 1 to 4, with 1 for 1.5m and 4 for Great than 6m.

Sources

“Aggregate site authorized – active”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated November 16, 2018. Data updated December 15, 2021. Downloaded November 25, 2021. (Link)(Data)

Aggregate Resources of Ontario—2020”,Ontario Geological Survey. Downloaded June 30, 2021. (Link)

Greenbelt outer boundary”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated August 6, 2021. Data updated May 18, 2017. Downloaded January 2, 2022. (Link)

Mapbox Base Monochrome”, Mapbox (personal account). Created January 10, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2022. (Link)

“Ontario Road Network (ORN) Road Net Element”, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Info updated September 27, 2019. Data updated January 5, 2022. (Link)

“GTA_West_RevisedRoute_August2020_Lat_Lon”, Environmental Defence/As The Crow Flies Cartography. Received November 30, 2021.

“Municipal Boundary – Lower and Single Tier”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated June 4, 2019. Data updated April 20, 2021. (Link)

Bryan Smith, of Gravel Watch Ontario, has been long involved with local aggregate issues and knows what kind of burden this will place on the rural communities that could be affected.

“These highway proposals are being touted as a net benefit, but the communities where the pits and quarries would make a Swiss cheese of the landscape will not feel the same. From increased truck traffic, wear and tear on local roads, reduced air quality, to issues with groundwater, aggregate comes at a high cost to the host municipality and its residents. There is no net benefit. Consequently, many municipalities are asking the province to make aggregate pay their fair share.”

The rock, sand and gravel extraction and its impact on communities up to 50 kilometers from the proposed routes is just another example of how the province is pushing forward these highway proposals without a full examination of their costs and impacts.

Map: Aggregate Mining in Ontario's Greenbelt
Map showing the density of aggregate activity, as well as the Greenbelt and proposed routes for the Bradford Bypass and 413 highways. Credit Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Click for larger version.

The “Aggregate Site Heatmap” is meant to show clustering of aggregate sites. This map uses one source of information shown two different ways – a heatmap, which draws attention to the density of sites, and the sites themselves, shown as polygons.

The heatmap uses data from the “Aggregate site authorized – active” file provided by the provincial government, with the sites, which are provided in polygon form, converted into centroid points. The size of the polygons is calculated into “AREA” and the centroid points are weighted by this metric.

The Greenbelt boundary is included to indicate impacts that aggregate mining may have on an area many Ontarians believe is protected from development, as well as industrial, activity. While development, understood in a strict sense of housing, may be restricted, the knock on effects of road and highway construction, this data shows, are largely not.

A measure of aggregate impact on the Greenbelt was arrived at by calculating the surface area of aggregate mines located within the Greenbelt AND within the study area. The result shows that 29% or the study area is covered by Greenbelt and 39% of the surface area of aggregate pits located within the study area are to be found within the Greenbelt boundaries.

Sources

“Aggregate site authorized – active”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated November 16, 2018. Data updated December 15, 2021. Downloaded November 25, 2021. (Link)(Data)

“Greenbelt outer boundary”, Land Information Ontario. Info updated August 6, 2021. Data updated May 18, 2017. Downloaded January 2, 2022. (Link)

“Mapbox Base Monochrome”, Mapbox (personal account). Created January 10, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2022. (Link)

Ontario Road Network (ORN) Road Net Element”, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Info updated September 27, 2019. Data updated January 5, 2022. (Link)

“GTA_West_RevisedRoute_August2020_Lat_Lon”, Environmental Defence/As The Crow Flies Cartography. Received November 30, 2021.

“Municipal Boundary – Lower and Single Tier”, >Land Information Ontario. Info updated June 4, 2019. Data updated April 20, 2021. (Link)

Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence, is concerned that environmental assessments of the highways won’t be considering the impacts from required aggregate.

“The shocking scale of the aggregate needed to build these highways means impacts will be felt by communities across a number of regions. The federal and provincial governments have an obligation to assess and address these widespread impacts as part of a robust and thorough environmental assessment of the highway projects.”

The mapping also shows that nearly 40 per cent of the aggregate sites likely to supply material for these projects are located within the Greenbelt.

Expansion of those pits puts at risk the crucial ecosystem services the Greenbelt provides, such as clean water, fresh air, healthy food, and habitat for wildlife. These impacts of aggregate extraction on the Greenbelt are compounded by the fact that they are being used, in this case, for projects that run through the Greenbelt, and which will likely lead to increased development pressure on it.

Did you know?

Ontario's Greenbelt provides:

$2.1 billion dollars worth of recreational activity each year.

$224 million dollars worth of flood prevention every year.

$52 million equivalent of carbon absorption every year.

Margaret Prophet, Executive Director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, believes that the highway proposals are yet another example of how this government has targeted the Greenbelt on behalf of developers.

“We heard promises that “we’re not going to touch the Greenbelt,” and yet this government wants to run two large highways right through it. The demand for aggregate, and the fact that much of it is likely to come from within the Greenbelt, only makes matters worse. The narrow focus on localized impacts creates a situation in which the Greenbelt is left vulnerable to a death by a thousand cuts. The impact of aggregate mining for these highways is a perfect example of this.”

The coalition’s research shows there is little that municipalities can do to protect citizens and ensure a healthy environment in the face of pressure from the aggregate industry.

Tim Gray adds, “The province is knowingly putting communities and the Greenbelt at risk from increased aggregate extraction to build destructive and unnecessary highways. And thanks to recently passed legislation, they have removed almost every tool municipalities used to have to limit or control these impacts. The communities located in these extraction hotspots need to be aware that if these highways go ahead it will impact them, even if they are far from the highways’ routes.”

Take Action

  • Sign the DAMN petition calling for a moratorium on all new applications for aggregate mining in Ontario.
  • Tweet a message to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault asking for a federal impact assessment of the Bradford Bypass.

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Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

finding your place in the story

I didn’t know what I was in for, but I knew that helping youth get engaged through a grassroots organization was something I couldn’t pass up. This is exactly what I was looking for – a chance to do something in my community.

In a Climate Emergency, ‘all hands on deck’ includes my own

After graduating from grad school into a pandemic, I had risk of contact on the top of my mind when looking for work, in addition to the usual imposter syndrome.

I had already decided that I wanted to get involved in my community and direct my career (whatever a ‘career’ is now) towards climate justice. We’re in a Climate Emergency and ‘all hands on deck’ includes my own. 

The thing is, for those of us who aren’t very extroverted, getting out there and acting is intimidating, (add climate anxiety and/or mental health issues to that and it’s downright immobilizing). 

Then I found an opening at a local organization, SCGC. I didn’t know what I was in for, but I knew that helping youth get engaged through a grassroots organization was something I couldn’t pass up. This is exactly what I was looking for – a chance to do something in my community.

Getting into local advocacy

I had studied place-based education and similar ideas, so I knew the local level was important and where I wanted to direct my energies. But local advocacy can be hard to break in to. 

Some things I’ve learned from my time with SCGC is the impact of municipal decisions on the climate and environment, largely through land-use planning. It’s so important for us to get involved and influence these local decisions, because collectively, they impact about half of our domestic carbon emissions – not to mention the social impacts. Local politics and planning are hugely underestimated. 

But this means that mobilizing and advocating locally can have a massive impact on those decisions too – in emissions reduction and environmental protections, but also in housing, transportation, public health, Indigenous rights, social justice, and ultimately, what our communities are going to look like in the future. This is especially important to young people.

Photo of several young people sitting with a lake in front of them and the sun setting in the distance. Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

"...collectively, [municipal land-use decisions] impact about half of our domestic carbon emissions..."

Strength in community

I also learned how critical it is to get out and find people that you can be in community with.

When you’re feeling all of the feelings that come with being in an emergency that most people in your life aren’t even acknowledging, finding others who care is one of the best things for your wellbeing and your ability to start doing the work.

We need major relationship building happening across all parts of our communities to create that foundation for the social capacity to change.

Find people who support you and your learning.

Find people who do their best to model the changes we need to make.

Find people who make you feel more confident in your ability to do this work, in whatever capacity you find yourself doing it in – because you can do it. 

There’s a lot of work to be done, and it has to be done together. 

It’s not always easy to find an ‘in’ to local advocacy, but it’s worth it.

There are barriers for young people, but organizations can work to address and dismantle them. It might take a while to find a space that’s a good fit for you, and what advocacy looks like for you will likely change over time. 

There's a role for every one of us

The point is that there’s a role for every one of us in this story.

The Climate Emergency is here, now; we have to act as though this is an emergency.

If you feel climate anxiety, harness that to get out of your comfort zone and do something. Find your place(s) in this climate story.

Becoming in relation to others is a good way to find this. I will be continually finding my place in this story, with my role changing as the narrative changes. 

Start small, follow local organizations on social media to see the work being done in your community, then see how you can help with your skills, or just as an extra set of hands.

Read up on local issues, on local news websites. How do your interests intersect with climate? I guarantee you they do, even if it’s not obvious at first.

How can you, in your work, school or hobby, create a space for climate action and for dialogue about possibilities for a different future?

Photo of a child reading with a flashlight under his blankets. Credit Klim Sergeev.

"How can you, in your work, school or hobby, create a space for climate action and for dialogue about possibilities for a different future?"

Transformative change

In a neoliberal, individualistic society, simply building reciprocal, caring relationships with one another, the plants and animals, is activism. Relating to the world in a non-extractive, equitable way is transformative. 

When we can bring these other ways of existing into the world and advocate for doing things differently – because what our society has been doing isn’t working and never did – we can start building something different. 

Making connections to others and between parts of our lives paint a clear picture of what we’re doing wrong. From these connections, we can reimagine and rebuild something better. A different vision of the future that isn’t a dystopia, but a future where we changed our priorities, our systems and our values. Issues are interconnected – we need collaboration across issues, sectors and people so that we can work together to envision and advocate for just, sustainable communities, and indeed, build them. 

Building community, building the future. 

Thank you to everyone involved with SCGC. 

Kelly, signing off. 

Kelly Gingrich

Kelly Gingrich

SCGCs Youth Engagement Lead

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Send Kelly a message letting her know that you’d like to get involved. She can put you in touch with other youth organizing on the ground in Simcoe County.
  2. Work on your influencer game! Yes, you read that right. Unfortunately, most ‘influencers’ are bought and paid for by corporations who don’t have any interest in building a better world. Social media is a thing, for better or worse, and it desperately needs young people who are good at communicating important issues in a way that is fun and accessible.

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Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

Please consider donating to support our work. It’s people like you who make us possible.

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We send out a once-monthly newsletter full of information on what’s happening in Simcoe County and beyond, including information on how you can take action to protect the health of your community.

15-Minute Communities

The 15-minute community (sometimes also called 15-minute ‘city’ or ‘neighbourhood’) is a vision for development that is human and community oriented.

15-minute communities occur where the basic things we need, like groceries, workplaces, doctor’s offices, community services and childcare, are all available within a 15 minute walk or roll from home.

SCGC, along with other organizations, has been advocating for a move towards establishing 15-minute communities in Simcoe County before development occurs outside of the built-up area.

What this would mean, in practice, is that existing communities would continue to be developed until residents are able to access basic amenities within a 15 minute walk. Only after that condition has been met would development to expand the community outward be allowed.

Read on below for reason why this makes sense, financially, for our health and safety, and for the environment.

What are 15-Minute Communities?

The 15-minute community (sometimes also called 15-minute ‘city’ or ‘neighbourhood’) is a vision for development that is human and community oriented. 15-minute communities are communities where the basic things we need, like groceries, workplaces, doctor’s offices, community services and childcare, are all available within a 15 minute walk or roll from home.

Many of us live in suburbs because this has been the norm since urban sprawl was adopted in the 50’s. But more municipalities are realizing that this is a really inefficient way of organizing our communities.

Developers give money to municipalities when they build that is meant to pay for infrastructure, but this up-front cost doesn’t cover repairs and upgrades needed later on.

When infrastructure is built in a way that is spread out, like with sprawl, the tax the municipality is able to collect on a per-person basis is also spread out, resulting in a tax-base that is much smaller, or spread out, in proportion to the larger infrastructure build.

Ontario's Infrastructure Deficit

Ontario’s current infrastructure deficit is estimated by the Financial Accountability Officer at $52 billion.

Roads make up the largest share, at $21.1 billion, with buildings and facilities at $9.5 billion, wastewater at $7.3 billion, potable water at $5.3, bridges and culverts at $4.3, storm water at $3.8, and transit at $1 billion.

Click on the image for a larger version, or click through here for the whole report.

Chart showing the state of Ontario's infrastructure, including the backlog or deficit. Credit Financial Accountability Office of Ontario.
Chart showing the state of Ontario's infrastructure, including the backlog or deficit. Credit Financial Accountability Office of Ontario.

Building more efficiently means we can do more

By building in a way that brings things closer together, mixing different elements that we all need, such as grocery and clothing stores, cafes and other local shops, into the same neighbourhoods, we maximize that use-value of the land.

This means, because it’s more efficient, that we can do more of what we want, such as funding public services like transit, building more playgrounds and parks, or funding community centres and theatres.

Sprawl hurts us all in ways that are often difficult to see, and the squeeze it puts on the public, the difficult choices municipalities are forced to make between maintaining a road into suburbia or building a childcare centre is just one example.

Did you know?

Canadians spend an average of $10,000 per year on owning a car. Multiply that by the number of cars your household has.

What could you put that money towards if you didn’t have to drive everywhere?

Would you retire early? Help with your child’s education? Take time to explore the world?

$ 0
Photo of a woman and child walking on a sidewalk, with a bush on one side and trees in the background on the other. The woman and child are holding hands. Photo by Sue Zeng on Unsplash
Photo of a woman and child walking on a sidewalk, with a bush on one side and trees in the background on the other. The woman and child are holding hands. Photo by Sue Zeng on Unsplash

And, there are more benefits...

These kinds of communities improve quality of life and make the places where people live more, well, livable.

As the places we need to go are brought closer to homes, our commutes and need to drive everywhere shrinks. We spend less time in traffic and more time being out in our community, interacting with neighbours, supporting local businesses, exercising and socializing. 

15-minute communities are also good climate policy. Low-rise density development produces the least emissions, while sprawl produces the most (with high-rise development somewhere in the middle). This is because these communities require less car and land use, and attached buildings are much more efficient for infrastructure and servicing (especially if this denser development is occurring in already-serviced areas, rather than undeveloped land). With about half of domestic carbon emissions being under control of municipal land-use planning, this is a pretty big deal for meeting our climate targets. 

An increasingly popular form of planning

We’ve seen a huge rise in popularity of the idea of the 15-minute community during the pandemic, as many people stopped having to commute for work and were spending more time in their own neighbourhoods. People are realizing what their neighbourhoods were missing and the potential of what they could be. 

15-minute communities have the potential to address so many of our current problems with the same planning approach, largely because of the density they require to make things walkable:

Climate Action

Cost Effective

Transportation

Public Health

Local Economy

Affordable Housing

Aging in Place

    • Mixed housing is required for Age-Friendly communities, so that seniors can downsize without having to leave their own neighbourhoods;

Social Health

    • 15-minute communities have higher social cohesion, while less traffic correlates to more friendships; this promotes a stronger sense of community, less isolation and loneliness, and stronger social networks;

Child-Friendly Communities

    • Denser neighbourhoods have less cars and more eyes on the streets, making these much safer for children to play outdoors and practice independence, which is a huge benefit for their development and health. 
An arial view of a mid-rise downtown area, with a park in the foreground. Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash
An arial view of a mid-rise downtown area, with a park in the foreground. Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

15-minute communities in Simcoe County

In Simcoe County, we’re not all big cities (Barrie and Orillia aside), but we do have Primary Settlement Areas, which are places where the province is directing a portion of population growth that we need to accommodate here. These are the perfect places to embrace the 15-minute community vision. 

In existing neighbourhoods, we can introduce gentle density to complete these neighbourhoods and give residents the nearby services that they deserve, while increasing the walkability and sense of community in these places. This means that less additional land will have to be developed and makes the direct and indirect cost (through taxes) lower for residents because it’s way more efficient for servicing costs. 

Where new neighbourhoods need to be built, in Designated Greenfield Areas or where an MZO has been approved, these neighbourhoods should be planned as 15-minute communities to give future residents the best quality of life while being the most affordable they can be – for residents and municipalities. If we absolutely need to use more land, we should use it as efficiently, sustainably and cost effectively as possible. Moving towards 15-minute communities improves livability for current and future residents in these existing communities and because they are compactly built, more people can live in these places, so that less people need to move into the more rural areas of the County. 

Learn more!

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Simcoe County 2022 – 2051 Land Needs Assessment

…value in the context of a community is achieved through livability, which in turn drives economic and social dynamism. Propinquity, or the accessibility of the areas we inhabit, whether that’s for people we socialise with or for consumer good or employment, is the key metric to achieve in this regard. Build communities for people and good things happen.

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Greenbelt

Province Rushing Bradford Bypass

Highways are the gateway drug for sprawl and the Bypass is a perfect example.  Developers own over 3000 acres of land around this highway waiting for the greenlight to destroy more farmland and wetlands.

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Photo of several high-rise apartment buildings, with blue sky above and trees below. Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash
Affordable Housing

Vertical Sprawl

By building spaces that prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion, we are setting the foundations for a future that is more sustainable. Sprawl, including vertical sprawl, is not the right way to do this.

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A photo of a woman and child walking, taken from behind. The woman is holding the child's hand. Trees and fall leaves line the path ahead of them. Credit Krzysztof Kowalik.
Planning

15-Minute Communities

The 15-minute community (sometimes also called 15-minute ‘city’ or ‘neighbourhood’) is a vision for development that is human and community oriented. 15-minute communities are communities where the basic things we need, like groceries, workplaces, doctor’s offices, community services and childcare, are all available within a 15 minute walk or roll from home.

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the view from inside: visions of the future

Our ability to create a different vision of the future opens up the paths to create those futures. Our ability to imagine these possibilities opens up what is actually possible, beyond the limits that are put on us. 

Good sci-fi tells us something meaningful about our own society. Imagination helps us envision better possible worlds.

Anyone else here a sci-fi fan?

I love stories that travel time and space, imagine possible futures and warn us of paths we may go down. I like fiction because of the power it holds – many of the worlds that sci-fi bring us to are far flung and fantastical, but good sci-fi tells us something meaningful about our own society. Fiction takes us to other worlds – or alternative versions of ours. 

But here’s the thing – the imagination, the capacity to reimagine, what our society looks like is much more than entertainment or escapism (although we need that sometimes too!). Our ability to create a different vision of the future opens up the paths to create those futures. Our ability to imagine these possibilities opens up what is actually possible, beyond the limits that are put on us. 

Fiction – whether writing, reading, drawing or watching – trains our minds in worldbuilding. The act of creating worlds – the history, environment and people of those worlds – is activism. But this isn’t just something that happens in fantasy novels, superhero movies or premium streaming channels. 

Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding is something that we do, that you do, every day. We live in a world impacted by our actions; how we live, eat, work, all builds up to create a version of our world. What we do and how we do it is shaped by our histories and those of the places we live in. The past interacts with our present and, depending on our actions, creates a certain version of the future. 

We are worldbuilding the future, our future, every day. So let’s make it a good one.

“We are worldbuilding the future, our future, every day. So let’s make it a good one.”

Visions of the future

Many activists, especially women of colour and Indigenous peoples, have used fiction to create alternative pasts, presents and futures that are anti-racist and decolonial – to create worlds that operate outside of current power structures. This can happen through fiction writing, public artworks, and community organizing. Imagining different versions of our society is empowering, especially for those who are marginalized in our current society.

Fiction can help us understand the massive implications of climate change. Creating narratives to understand our situation helps us cope so that we can see a path to the future instead of overwhelming uncertainty and fear. Especially when those narratives are hopeful ones.

The thing is, those kinds of futures are possible when we can imagine them. This is part of why youth are leading the calls for change – real change, the kind that transforms the systems themselves, not just making changes within the system like many adults do.

Having visions of the future that are not limited by what the current political and economic systems tell us is possible, is what makes these alternative futures possible.

We haven’t been bombarded with messages about “it’s just the way it is” as long as many adults have – we haven’t given into the acceptance and fatalism of the status quo.

A certain kind of economics, politics and social structure has been drilled into people, especially at the end of the 20th century – we didn’t get as much of this as our parents did. We are growing up at a time when these systems are in crisis, on the verge of collapse, or reckoning. We’re seeing the consequences of how things have been run.

We know that this kind of selfish, exploitative, unsustainable politics (usually called ‘neoliberalism’) can’t go on – for people or the Earth. The myth of infinite economic growth, founded on colonialism and racism, the myth of unbridled consumption, the myth that The Market will save us – we aren’t buying it.

“The myth of infinite economic growth, founded on colonialism and racism, the myth of unbridled consumption, the myth that The Market will save us – we aren’t buying it.”

Imagine a future built to care for each other and the natural world

Young people, you, can imagine new ways of living in the world that exist outside of the current systems. The world that we build through our activism, even if it starts out as a small space in your community or school, like a pocket dimension, will open up the metaphorical portals to those alternative futures that are just, sustainable, and capable of changing for new climate realities.

Worlds where our social and economic systems are built to care for each other and the natural world, where we have truly participatory decision making, where joy and love and creativity are valued – in place of this hollow machine that takes and takes.

Our activism is worldbuilding.

Together, we are more than able to create the future that we want, that aligns with our vision of the future for our communities.

This looks different in different places. It could be youth writing climate fiction that tells the story of how we had the courage to change everything; it could be art co-ops making public art works telling stories of climate adaptation that centers social justice; it could look like blockades in solidarity with Indigenous Land Protectors to create a place of activism outside of colonialism; it could be neighbourhoods that take back public space and do things differently; it could be students working together to change what their education looks like to prepare them for futures of climate crisis.

What visions of the future will you build with your community?

What alternative futures can you imagine?

Kelly, signing off.

Kelly Gingrich

Kelly Gingrich

SCGC Youth Engagement Lead

How Can You Get Involved?

  1. Send Kelly a message letting her know that you’d like to get involved. She can put you in touch with other youth organizing on the ground in Simcoe County.
  2. Work on your influencer game! Yes, you read that right. Unfortunately, most ‘influencers’ are bought and paid for by corporations who don’t have any interest in building a better world. Social media is a thing, for better or worse, and it desperately needs young people who are good at communicating important issues in a way that is fun and accessible.

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We’re told that changing policies is difficult – and in some ways it is; there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of details to consider. But we also see examples of sweeping policy changes all the time, at all the levels of government – just look at how much changed during Covid-19. It’s totally possible, if we have the political will (and public pressure – that’s where you come in) to do it.

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But there’s a lot to learn and not a lot of clear information, so how can we learn more?

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Let’s cut right to it – now that the pandemic is beginning to come to a close, now is the time to jump into action and demand the world we want. Covid-19 put a lot of things on hold, put a lot of us into limbo. Now is when we plan. Now is when we act. Now is when our desire and need for change come into bloom – with the Earth lending us the energy of summer to do it!

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Community supported, advocacy for a safe and secure future.

Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.

We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.

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Friends. Online censorship by unaccountable tech companies, combined with an all-out assault on the Greenbelt by Ontario’s developers/government, make this a perilous time for the future of democracy and the power of the people in Ontario.

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