Doug Ford's 'red-tape' cuts save Ontario developers $400M a year

Developers are among the biggest beneficiaries of red-tape reduction measures brought in by Premier Doug Ford's government, saving hundreds of millions of dollars a year in costs, CBC News has learned.

Since taking office in 2018, Ford's Ontario PCs have brought in 12 bills focused on cutting what they describe as red tape. Their most recent legislation – the Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes Act – received royal assent in June.

The government has claimed that its bills cut the costs of complying with provincial regulations by $1.2 billion a year and save people 1.5 million hours of administrative paperwork.

But until now, the government had not made public any details of how it arrived at those figures, or where the savings went.

Government officials have now provided a breakdown to CBC News. Among the highlights:

  • Developers save more than $410 million annually from amendments to municipal planning legislation and a cap on the fees that school boards can levy on new housing.

  • Companies save $209 million annually in the costs of complying with dozens of environmental protection regulations.

  • Employers save $194 million annually from changes to employment standards and occupational health and safety legislation.

Kitchener-Conestoga PC candidate Mike Harris is pictured in Waterloo region on May 12, 2022 during a campaign stop.
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris Jr. became Ontario's Minister of Red-Tape Reduction in June. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

CBC News requested an interview with Mike Harris Jr., appointed as Minister of Red-Tape Reduction in Ford's cabinet shuffle last month. Officials said he was not available, however he provided a statement by email.

"Ontario's comprehensive red tape reduction efforts have streamlined regulations, stimulated economic growth, fostered innovation, and led to the building of more homes to meet growing demand," Harris said in the statement.

$250M from scrapping parking minimums 

The government provided CBC News with details of each measure that it says brings more than $10 million in cost savings annually. Together these account for more than 80 per cent of the $1.26 billion in total annual savings.

Topping the list: more than $250 million saved by banning municipalities from imposing minimum numbers of parking spaces in new housing projects around transit hubs, a measure in the government's recent Bill 185.

"The removal of minimum parking requirements in protected major transit station areas and other areas around transit will reduce costs for property owners and developers," Justine Teplycky, director of communications for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra, said in an email.

"Removing parking minimums near transit stations can save an average of $50,000/new home constructed," she said.

Aerial view of Blacksmith Public School and surrounding residential neighbourhoods
The government says developers are saving $160 million annually from legislation that caps education development charges, the fees that some Ontario school boards can levy on new housing developments. Boards can use the fees to buy land for future schools. (Sue Reid/CBC)

NDP Leader Marit Stiles questions how the provincial government can take credit for all of those savings given that Toronto city council already scrapped minimum parking requirements in 2021.

"I have never really trusted this government's claims when it comes to savings of either either time or money, and I certainly don't trust their math," Stiles said in an interview.

Saving developers dollars not without cost: Stiles

She also has doubts about the second-biggest item on the list of red-tape savings: $160 million annually from capping the fees that school boards can levy on new housing developments.

The fees are known as education development charges. In 2019, the government's More Homes, More Choice Act limited how much school boards could charge per unit of new housing.

Stiles says capping education development charges isn't really reducing red tape.

"They may have saved developers some money," said Stiles in an interview. "It has come at the additional cost of reducing revenue to our school boards."

'It's time they got the message and stopped wasting millions of dollars' says Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles says she doesn't trust the government's claims of cost savings from reducing red tape. (Andrew Lahodynskyj/The Canadian Press)

The Ontario Public School Boards Association says the cap is arbitrary and hampers the ability of boards to buy land for new schools.

"This is pushing some school boards to carry unsupported debts indefinitely, while subsidizing residential and commercial development," said the association in a statement.

"If the intention of education development charges is to offset the cost of purchasing land on which to build schools, the government should remove the barriers and let that happen."

It's far from clear that the government's measures to cut developers' costs have actually spurred construction of new homes, given the current slow pace of home building in Ontario.

Environmental regulations targeted

The most frequent target of the government's red-tape reduction efforts has been the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. Changes to environmental regulations account for 48 of the 215 measures, more than any other ministry.

"Simply allowing businesses to make more money by just letting them harm the public interest is not a cost saving from cutting 'red tape,'" said Phil Pothen, a lawyer and program manager with Environmental Defence.

INEOS Styrolution will not be able to accept benzene shipments from nearby producers as of May 15 after the province suspended an approval required to operate.
The government says Ontario's major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases will save $107 million this year (and $1.1 billion cumulatively by 2030) because the costs of complying with the provincial industrial emissions program are lower than the costs of the equivalent federal program. (CBC News)

"It's really just a form of transfer of wealth away from the public," said Pothen in an interview. "The giveaway of public benefit is not a savings. It's turning really what should be a scandal on its head and trying to present it as a victory."

Some of the measures do appear to tackle what is classically considered to be red tape. For instance, a change that allows pension plans to use email as their default method of communication with members rather than paper will save nearly $24 million this year, according to the government.

Other big-ticket items on the list

Some of the other big-ticket items on the red-tape reduction list:

Emissions Performance Standards: The government says major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases will save $107 million this year (and $1.1 billion cumulatively by 2030) because the costs of complying with the province's industrial emissions program are lower than the costs of the federal equivalent.

Occupational Health and Safety Act: Mining companies' savings of $104 million annually are "mainly derived from electricity cost savings related to changes to ventilation requirements," according to a government document.

Employment Standards Act: The government says employers are saving $91 million annually from legislative amendments under the 2018 Making Ontario Open for Business Act. That bill scrapped many of the labour law reforms brought in under Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government, including requiring employers to provide staff a minimum of two paid sick days per year.

Other measures and their reported annual savings include:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a signing of a memorandum of understanding with Governor of Illinois J.B. Pritzker, at the US-Canada Summit in Toronto on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.
Since being elected in 2018, Premier Doug Ford's Ontario PCs have brought in 12 bills focused on cutting what they describe as red tape. The government says these bills cut the annual cost of complying with provincial regulations by $1.2 billion. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

"These initiatives are delivering real results for businesses and people alike, while maintaining Ontario's dedication to protecting the environment and supporting educational infrastructure," said Harris in his statement,

Nearly 200 of the 215 red-tape reduction measures result in savings of less than $10 million each, and 150 of those bring annual savings of less than $1 million each.

The bulk of the reported 1.5 million hours in time savings come from the province's new system for automatic licence plate renewals. The government's figures claim the automatic renewals will save Ontarians 1.4 million hours this year.

Stiles said the government's time-saving figures don't account for the amount of extra time people are spending waiting for care in hospital emergency rooms.