Heritage preservation and protection —setback 20 years!

David Flemming


Well, the dust has settled on the provincial government’s notorious Bill 23. The bill, introduced the day after the province’s October 2022 municipal elections to avoid any opposition, passed second reading with limited opportunity for public comment and was given final reading in the provincial legislature without any debate.

Premier Doug Ford has used the pretext of increasing the number of new homes in Ontario to dismantle most municipal policies on intensification and heritage protection. This has been done without reference to the current regulations contained in the Planning Act and the Ontario Heritage Act. The premier even reneged on his electoral campaign promise not to allow urban sprawl into the green belts around cities like Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa in order to enable new housing projects that will place additional burdens on municipal infrastructure.

Bill 23 provides, among other things, amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act that will increase ministerial power to override heritage protection and reduce the value of the Heritage Register by limiting listed properties to a maximum of two years. It further prevents properties that have been delisted from being returned to the register for a period of five years. These provisions will ultimately result in the loss of many of our city’s cultural heritage resources.

The Ottawa Heritage Register has grown to 4,000 properties. It provides the City of Ottawa with a 60-day opportunity to consider for designation any property that is the subject of a demolition request. It is an important planning tool that recognizes the cultural value of a property to the community.

Many in the development community see the Register as a tripwire or a waiting room for designation. It is neither. In the decade since the establishment of the Register, out of the 53 Notices of Intent to Demolish a listed property, the City has approved 52. Only one has resulted in the City passing a bylaw designating the property to be of cultural heritage value under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.

Other changes are based on the erroneous view that Heritage Conservation Districts, as currently regulated, are an impediment to intensification. This is not the case. Heritage properties are routinely leveraged in intensified development proposals that provide for more much-needed housing in already serviced communities while preserving Ottawa’s cultural and architectural heritage.

Bill 23 also increases the prescribed criteria for designations contained in Ontario Regulation 09/06, “Criteria for Determining Cultural Heritage Value or Interest.” To necessitate that a candidate property for designation requires two of the legislative criteria for designation instead of only one does not reflect the increasing 21st century importance of historical associative and contextual value beyond a property’s architectural significance.

Another threat to our built heritage is the bill’s direction to remove municipal authority to regulate exterior features, sustainable design, character, scale, and design features through site plan control. Likewise, the exemption of buildings of up to ten residential units from site plan control is a further threat to our Heritage Conservation Districts.

Heritage Ottawa strongly supports an increase in the number of homes built in the Province of Ontario and believes that this can best be done by providing Ontario municipalities with the responsibility to develop housing projects and preserve their built heritage resources in a manner that best suits their communities and not the developers. We shall continue to work with the City as allies in the fight to mitigate the adverse effects of this retrograde legislation.

This article first appeared in Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, February 2023 (Vol. 50 / No. 1) and is reprinted here with permission. Visit www.heritageottawa.org to find the original and other issues of the newsletter.