PC minister opposes housing project at Vaughan council

By Alan S. Hale February 11, 2023

Despite months of the PC government painting opponents of their housing policies as supporting NIMBYism, Vaughan—Woodbridge MPP Michael Tibollo showed up at a City of Vaughan council meeting this week to oppose a proposed condo development.

Tibollo, and a number of residents who spoke before him, told the council they do not want a 12-storey building next to the backyards of their single-family dwelling neighbourhood.

But councillors were having none of it, telling Tibollo — in tones both angry and polite — that the province has left them powerless to oppose such projects by passing Bill 23More Homes Builty Faster Act, and creating an Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) that is biased in favour of developers.

After listening to several residents complain about traffic issues and shadows that will be caused by the proposed condo on Wigwoss Drive and Highway 7, Tibollo told councillors he had come with the blessing of both Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark “to clarify” that the province’s housing policies do not preclude the council from quashing projects that are not in their residents’ best interests.

“You’ve heard all the right reasons why this development should not go forward,” Tibollo told council.

“The residents and their concerns are valid, and their concerns need to be taken into account. The decision and what the development ultimately looks like is a decision of the council, not of the province.”

Councillor Rosanna DeFrancesca said that’s gibberish, telling Tibollo during a heated exchange that it is the province that is imposing its will on the municipality while leaving councillors to deal with the anger of affected residents.

As evidence, she pointed to the changes Clark made to the York Region Official Plan authorizing high-rise buildings, which she said were imposed without holding public consultation or even informing the municipality beforehand.

“How is this council supposed to make decisions in the best interest of the community when the province comes and sweeps it from under our feet? Please explain,” fumed DeFranscesca.

Seemingly caught off guard, Tibollo said he didn’t know the details of the official plan changes, which occurred in November, and insisted on just addressing the condo project at hand.

“I will certainly look into it and have that discussion with you once I’ve had an opportunity to review it. But tonight, we’re not talking specifically about residences. We’re talking specifically about the impact on the community,” said Tibollo.

DeFrancesca was undeterred.

“What’s happening, Mr. Tibollo, is that the voices of the community are being stripped away from them, when the province comes down here and tells us how to do our intensification,” she said.

“The province is not telling you that you have to intensify on Highway 7,” he said.

“They did in two instances in my ward, sir,” retorted the councillor.

“That has nothing to do with it,” insisted Tibollo.

Other councillors were more conciliatory in their tone, thanking Tibollo for being “brave” and “having the courage” to come to the meeting, and for lending his support to residents who also have concerns about the impact of the project on the character of their neighbourhood.

But the councillors told Tibollo that, despite his assurances that the decision on the condo is theirs to make, that is not so. If they decide to block the project, the proponent will simply appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).

“The tribunal that has been created and appointed by the current government is all pro-development,” said councillor Marilyn Iafrate, who argued the OLT’s bias in favour of developers has made council’s own planning decisions inconsequential.

It’s a situation that has been made worse by Bill 23, the councillors said. The controversial housing legislation has made municipalities liable for the costs of going before the tribunal, which is a problem, said Iafrate, because “all municipalities lose.”

Councillor Chris Ainsworth agreed, telling Tibollo the province had effectively “pulled the rug out” from under council’s feet, “because every time we have a new building that is being proposed to come into our neighbourhoods, it’s almost like the developers know that because Bill 23 has kicked in, they can just pass the municipality and go straight to the OLT [where] everything just gets passed.”

Ainsworth said this setup has left municipalities to take the blame when unpopular projects go ahead anyway, and called for OLT reform.

Tibollo said he would take the concerns about the OLT back to Minister Clark and “try to understand a little bit better how that process works to ensure that the will of the people is heard.” That said, he still told the council it should oppose the condo project, fight it at the tribunal and ask for judicial review if they lose.

“I don’t want to go on the assumption that it doesn’t matter what you do here because it’s going to get approved at the next stage. I think that the next stage needs to be fought just as hard as it is here. Because at the end of the day it is the community that should speak with respect to what happens in their communities,” said Tibollo.

Associate Minister Michael Tibollo is sworn into the PC government’s cabinet at Queen’s Park in June 2022. (Twitter/Michael Tibollo)

An attempt to ‘mislead’

Speaking to Queen’s Park Today on Thursday, councillor DeFrancesca said Tibollo’s appearance at council had amounted to an attempt to “mislead the residents there that are fighting for development in their community.”

DeFrancesca said she is not anti-development and that certain parts of Bill 23 are “warranted,” but she doubts the legislation will ever deliver housing affordability. What will, she said, is giving authority back to municipalities over their own planning decisions and official plans.

“What’s the point of forcing us to do all that work and spend all that money on an official plan — and then let people do what they want? What’s the purpose?” she laughed ruefully.

She also expressed doubt the PCs will do anything to make OLT proceedings fairer for municipalities.

Queen’s Park Today reached out to Minister Clark’s office asking about how the government can square opposing the condo with its own rhetoric regarding NIMBYism, and whether the government will do anything to reform the OLT, but did not receive a response.

Former Liberal leader and Mayor of Vaughan Steven Del Duca was at the meeting but did not speak during the exchange with Tibollo.