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Stylized illustration of a Trillium flower and a loon's head. In the background is a realistic green wetland.


Challenging undemocratic changes to Hamilton’s boundaries

January 9, 2023

On November 4, 2022, the Ontario government announced it was changing Hamilton’s official plan to expand the city’s boundary by 2,200 hectares, encroaching into farmland and wild spaces that are part of the Greenbelt.

Around the same time the boundary change was made, the government introduced Bill 23, that strips conservation authorities of their power and limits municipalities’ ability to levy fees on developers to fund essential infrastructure. And a short time later, the Ontario government announced it was removing parts of the Greenbelt from protection.

This move caused palpable anger among city councillors, housing activists, planners, environmental advocates and residents about the provincial government’s imposition of further sprawl upon the City of Hamilton, which had decided to accommodate its future growth by densifying its existing neighbourhoods and settlement areas.

These forced changes formed part of a wider attempt by the Ontario government to divert the province’s scarce construction capacity — desperately needed for compact infill housing — into the inefficient “greenfield” sprawl championed by a small, wealthy and politically influential subset of the development industry.

That suite of changes, which also included the removal of key parts of the Greenbelt, resulted in the resignation of two government ministers and several political staff, an official rebuke from the province’s Auditor General and Integrity and Privacy Commissioner and an ongoing criminal investigation by the RCMP.

Freedom of Information requests filed by Ecojustice on behalf of Environmental Defence showed that it was partisan Minister’s Office staff — not civil service experts — who directed changes to municipal Official Plans in ways that favoured select rural landlords and sprawl developers.

In October 2023 — days before the government was forced to disclose documents to Ecojustice and Environmental Defence showing how developers were able to influence these decisions — the Ontario government announced that it was reversing its changes to the Official Plans of municipalities and forced expansion of urban boundaries across the province. The Planning Statute Law Amendment Act (Bill 150), which follows through on this announcement has now passed into law. In the weeks that followed, Hamilton City Council confirmed that it wanted to maintain its urban boundary.

In light of Ontario’s reversal, now enshrined in legislation, the case against Ontario is no longer required. Ecojustice, representing its client, Environmental Defence, is withdrawing the case.

On December 5, 2022, Ecojustice filed a notice of application with the Ontario Divisional Court on behalf of Environmental Defence, seeking a judicial review of Ontario’s unilateral changes to Hamilton’s official plan. In January 2023, we served the provincial government with notice of legal action.

Ecojustice argued that the Ontario government was trampling on local democracy while opening up environmentally sensitive areas for destruction. Instead of sustainable, transit-friendly homes, the people of Hamilton would be subject to greater urban sprawl and the loss of nature and farmland.

Ecojustice — on behalf of Environmental Defence — made four freedom of information requests for documents dealing with urban boundary and Greenbelt changes that occurred in late 2022. Just days before the release of official plan documents, the Ontario government announced that it was reversing its proposed changes to urban boundaries, and legislation was tabled to reverse the Greenbelt changes.

When documents were released under these FOI requests, lands were designated for development despite being rejected by both municipal planners and provincial Municipal Affairs planning experts.

In December 2023, the Ontario Legislature passed the Planning Statute Law Amendment Act (Bill 150), reversing the reckless and counterproductive changes to Hamilton settlement boundaries that were the subject of the litigation.

Ecojustice staff

Laura Bowman

Lindsay Beck

Zachary Biech


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