Housing, healthcare and climate — all at the same time

In our latest Ontario election newsletter, we probe development tensions in Ottawa and the Greenbelt — and how the major parties plan to navigate the housing and climate crises

For many urban Indigenous people in Ottawa, the Central Experimental Farm is a crucial greenspace — but not for long. As investigative reporter Carl Meyer just wrote, a new, long-awaited campus for the Ottawa Hospital will mean the loss of eight hectares of land that Indigenous service organizations use for education and recreation, as well as healing and cultural activities. 

Stephanie (Mikki) Adams co-chairs the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, a group of 10 service organizations that say they were shut out of decisions around the $2.8 billion project, including site choice. “We were not consulted with at all,” Adams told Carl, adding that, as a group, the coalition serves about 20,000 people in the region. The hospital said it reached out to many Indigenous communities, but wouldn’t say which actually joined its Indigenous Peoples Advisory Circle. None of the nations or organizations it mentioned confirmed to The Narwhal that they were members. 

This is just one example of how issues of Indigenous Rights, conservation and climate mitigation can seem at odds with other challenges Ontario is facing. Over the course of the election campaign, such tensions have come up a lot. Today, Ontario reporter Emma McIntosh has a story about a vote happening on May 25 in Durham Region, which must decide whether to open 3,771 hectares of farmland to development. As Emma wrote last fall, Durham is also making a decision about the location of a much-needed new hospital and whether to build it on the headwaters of Carruthers Creek — a choice that’s pitting the two municipalities of Pickering and Ajax against each other, as the first pushes for development and the second worries about floods.

A photo of farmlands in the Greenbelt region of Durham County, in Ontario.
Farmlands in the Greenbelt region of Durham County. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Halton Region just chose not to open farmland to development, while York Region decided to go for it last November. These votes are happening as municipalities decide whether to go along with the Progressive Conservative government’s push to expand urban boundaries and accelerate construction of (most single-family) homes, to address the province’s very real problem of housing affordability in a time of non-stop population growth. 

But does preserving greenspace, farmland and Indigenous territory have to be at odds with housing (or healthcare)? We asked three candidates that question last week at The Narwhal’s Ontario election forum. All of them said it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum battle, though they had different ideas of how to achieve both climate goals and affordable housing.

Sandy Shaw, the incumbent NDP MPP for Hamilton–Ancaster–Dundas West, said she had been standing “shoulder-to-shoulder” with people in her riding: the city of Hamilton recently decided not to expand its urban boundary as directed. But the Ontario government still has tools to override that decision, which is why Shaw, who is her party’s environment critic, supports “getting rid of Ontario Land Tribunal rulings that make it very difficult for municipalities to have control over how they grow their housing and how they plan for their futures.” 

Ontario can afford to address both the climate and housing crises, said Dianne Saxe, the Green Party candidate for University–Rosedale in Toronto, and the province’s former environmental commissioner. “What we can’t afford are dumb things like sprawl and building more highways,” she said, adding that her party’s platform shows how to build 1.5 million new homes in urban areas that already have transit and jobs. 

The Ontario Liberal platform pledges to build 1.5 million houses over the next 10 years. Lucille Collard, incumbent Liberal MPP and environment critic for Ottawa–Vanier, said over 130,000 are slated to be affordable, and over 20,000 reserved for Indigenous families. “We can’t build over the Greenbelt,” Collard said. “We need to stop urban sprawl and promote smart intensification” which she believes requires working with other levels of government.

If you’d like to know what else these three candidates had to say — about emissions, electric vehicles and building climate consensus no matter who wins — you can watch the whole event above. And if you’re wondering why the Progressive Conservatives don’t have a representative, it’s because they declined our invitation to participate in the event.

In just over a week, Ontarians will head to the polls. Between now and then, we’ll be bringing you a breakdown of each party’s environmental platform, a look at a big new transit project in Peel Region and a story about the Doug Ford government’s stance on natural gas. Let us know if there are any other pressing climate issues you’d like us to cover — we might not get to them by June 2, but we would love to know what you’re thinking about. 

Make good choices,

Denise Balkissoon
Ontario bureau chief

Illustrated title in comic book style: "Fact check of the week."
A photo of a highway sign that reads "Entering the Greenbelt"
Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

Where do the opposition parties stand on building new highways?

The spiciest moment of The Narwhal’s election forum (a.k.a. the Ontario election’s only province-wide climate-focused forum) occurred when the three candidates started talking about highways — very confusingly. With the proudly pro-highway Progressive Conservatives absent in the conversation, it made us all wonder: where exactly do the other parties stand on building new highways?

NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw said Highway 413 “goes against everything that we stand for, and against really everything Ontarians stand for.” But the NDP’s dislike of highways doesn’t apply everywhere: the party’s platform includes a small section titled “Building and fixing our roads,” which pledges to prioritize the construction of six “needed” highways outside the protected Greenbelt. Still, Shaw told The Narwhal audience that “building highways is such a backwards approach to growth.” Confused? Us too. 

Meanwhile, Lucille Collard, incumbent Liberal MPP, said her party has pledged to cancel Highway 413 but “we’re not against highways. Some highways have already been committed, have gone through extensive environmental assessment and are necessary for essential travel across the province.” On the Bradford Bypass, Collard said Ontario needs to “redo our homework” because the environmental assessment, as my colleague Emma has reported, is outdated. 

The Liberal plan repeatedly promises to cancel Highway 413 and invest the money in other projects, particularly schools. But the party is under fire after one of their candidates — Jannat Garewal, Liberal candidate for Brampton East — suggested the Liberals would delay the construction of Highway 413, not cancel it. Party leader Steven Del Duca reiterated his opposition to the 413, but the Liberal platform does pledge to invest in other highways that cross urban centres like Milton, Mississauga, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener and Windsor to “keep people safe and moving.” 

As for the Ontario Greens, their plan for highways is four words: “Stop building new highways.” Except: while a Green spokesperson told The Narwhal the party would build no new highways in southern Ontario, new roadways in northern Ontario would be assessed on a case-by-case basis because of the region’s “unique” transportation needs. 

Why does all this matter? Tons of research suggests there should be no further building of anything that will lock-in fossil fuel usage. That means no new roads and highways, at least until someone can deliver the electric vehicle future the climate emergency demands. — Fatima Syed

Illustrated title in comic book style: "ELXN SZN EXTRAS."
A collage of industry and cars, with overlaid text reading "Mr Speaker. This budget. Our budget. Ontario's budget."

Money talks, and the Ontario government’s pre-election budget doesn’t spend much on climate

By Emma McIntosh and Fatima Syed

In April, Doug Ford’s government released an Ontario budget without a chapter dedicated to environment policy, the first time such an important topic was completely ignored. What it does promise is mining, electric vehicles and even more highways. Read more.

TTC commuters in Toronto wait for a bus.

The Ford government is giving $1 billion back to drivers. What about public transit riders?

By Fatima Syed

The Progressive Conservatives’ transit spending is focused on big, long-term projects that don’t interfere with private vehicle lanes. But just as eliminating licence plate renewal fees benefits drivers right away, small, street-level fixes could improve riders’ lives — and reduce emissions — immediately. Read more.

Doug Ford and Rod Phillips

Why all of Canada will pay for Doug Ford’s choice to cancel Ontario’s cap-and-trade program

By Fatima Syed

Newly public documents reveal the Progressive Conservatives stonewalled Koch Industries’ requests for compensation and pushed the global giant to take its complaints to international court. Read more.

A gif of Doug Ford backing up in a construction vehicle.

When you’re figuring out how to keep the engine running for another four years. Tell your friends The Narwhal is kicking its coverage into high gear as the campaign hits the final stretch — and to sign up for our election newsletter to get the latest updates.

Updated on May 24, 2022 at 10:00 a.m. ET: This story was updated to correct the Liberal party pledge on housing. Although Lucille Collard said the party will build 1.5 billion homes over the next 10 years, the platform is designed to build 1.5 million homes.

Western Canada is on fire — again

In Alberta, parts of Fort McMurray are evacuating again. In B.C., more than 4,000 residents of Fort Nelson and the Fort Nelson First Nation were...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Thousands of members make The Narwhal’s independent journalism possible. Will you help power our work in 2024?
Will you help power our journalism in 2024?
That means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Readers used to find us on Facebook. Now we’re blocked
That means our newsletter has become the most important way we connect with Narwhal readers like you. Will you join the nearly 90,000 subscribers getting a weekly dose of in-depth climate reporting?
A line chart in green font colour with the title "Our Facebook traffic has cratered." Chart shows about 750,000 users via Facebook in 2019, 1.2M users in 2020, 500,000 users in 2021, 250,000 users in 2022, 100,000 users in 2023.
Readers used to find us on Facebook. Now we’re blocked
Overlay Image