Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Graydon Smith says he’ll continue to stand behind Bill 23.
Also known as the “More Homes Built Faster Act,” the bill was passed at Queen’s Park in November, removing many restrictions for developers, as well as several tools for municipalities to enforce requirements on development. The province says the legislation is needed to meet a campaign promise of building 1.5-million homes in 10 years, which includes affordable housing.
Smith, who serves as the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, says the environment will not suffer as a result.
“I think there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about what this means on the environmental side,” says Smith. “There are still protections in place to ensure that people and property remain protected from flooding, there’s still a process in place to evaluate wetlands and keep a strong ecological network of wetlands in Ontario.”
On Friday, roughly 100 people led by Climate Action Muskoka and Almaguin Climate Action travelled across the riding to protest Bill 23, ending at Smith’s Bracebridge constituency office to hand-deliver letters, voice their concerns, and ask him to repeal the bill.
In an open letter Sunday, protest leaders claim they were denied access to the building, and Smith’s office had yet to respond to numerous phone calls, emails, letters, and meeting requests.
“Last Friday a group of protesters attempted to gain access to my office, thereby disrupting the business and operations of the building in which we rent office space,” says Smith. “The building owner made the decision to eject these individuals from the premises and call the police.”
However, Smith says he still “welcomes their feedback and the opportunity to have a respectful discussion,” adding his office has since gotten in touch with the protest’s leaders to schedule a meeting.
“That’s what I’m here to do, is to listen to all sides,” says Smith. “But at the same time, I’ve got to take action where there’s an opportunity to take action, and solve some of the problems that are a real challenge for our communities and our riding right now. And housing is an enormous one. But it’s not an either-or proposition. We can have the housing, and we can have a strong environment too, and that’s our goal.”
While he can’t speak on whether Queen’s Park plans to amend the bill, Smith says the Ford government is “united in its support for these bills and for the opportunity it’s going to bring.”
“We can’t keep doing what we’ve done– we need to do things differently,” says Smith. “Municipalities are a big part of the conversation and the solution. I’ve been there, I’ve been in that seat. I understand the challenges, but I also see an opportunity, and it’s an opportunity that our government is taking to work with municipal partners and homebuildings to grow our communities.”