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COMMENTARY: Ontario's approach to housing needs an overhaul

The status quo isn't working, writes Liberal leadership candidate Bonnie Crombie in an op-ed
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie taking part in the leaders debate in Thunder Bay

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park

When I ran for Mayor of Mississauga in 2014, some doubted my vision to transform our once suburban community into a bustling urban centre. Today, with over 80,000 housing permits issued, we have done more than defy critics; we've charted a new path. Shovels are in the ground, cranes are in the sky, and we are building housing. 

Under my leadership, Mississauga grew upward, focusing on redevelopment and intensification in strategic areas. The construction of the Hazel McCallion LRT and our skyline's 39 cranes — amongst the most in North America — bear testament to our commitment to high-density urban living. We're breathing new life into our waterfront, championing mixed-use communities, and leading the charge for the “missing-middle” housing, with no height or density restrictions in our downtown. 

I’m proud of my record as mayor. What is now 50 towers in our downtown will quickly rise to over 116 in the next decade if shovels get in the ground for approved development. We've reimagined former brownfield sites on our waterfront, cleaned up greyfield sites, prioritized transit, and bolstered public amenities like schools, parks, multi-use trails, and community centres.

All together, Mississauga has evolved into a dynamic, inclusive, modern city, the third largest in Ontario.

Like any transformative journey, our path hasn’t been perfect. But we’ve made significant progress and have been lauded for our innovative projects. The reality is no community can transform housing in isolation. We are limited by provincial policies and market challenges. Over my tenure as mayor, I’ve seen a provincial government more interested in picking fights and rewarding its roster of well-connected buddies than pursuing policies that work. 

At the same time, I’ve seen firsthand where there are opportunities — density around transit; complete, liveable, walkable communities with public amenities; and the regeneration of former industrial sites into beautiful communities — but I’ve also seen where there are significant barriers. 

To say that my thinking on how to face this challenge has evolved over my 15 years in public office would be an understatement. Of course it has. Rent prices soar monthly, and the dream of homeownership becomes more distant in every corner of our province. The status quo isn't working. Our approach to housing demands an overhaul.

We all have to evolve our thinking on what it will take to solve this crisis. We have to pull every lever we can at all levels of government. And, frankly, there are more levers to pull at the provincial level than at City Hall.

This is why I've thrown my hat into the ring to challenge Doug Ford. Because to succeed in making housing more accessible and affordable across Ontario — we can’t have a premier who is mired in scandal and focused on the wrong priorities.

The consensus is clear: we must break down the barriers hindering our housing goals. We must revisit outdated policies with urgency. 

It's time to end exclusionary zoning and champion denser housing in strategic areas. Regulations that stymie housing projects must be axed, and we must streamline approvals to get shovels in the ground faster. Moreover, municipalities must be financially supported to build new and maintain existing infrastructure, including public transit, to support growing communities.

Ontario’s strength lies in our resilient people. My tenure as mayor was built on collaboration, a testament to my ability to listen and bring diverse voices together for the collective good. We’ve got great projects underway in Mississauga. As premier, I will bring that same innovative thinking to the entire province to build more housing.

To me, “let’s get it done” isn’t simply a slogan; it’s what we need to do every day on the job. 

Bonnie Crombie is mayor of Mississauga and a candidate for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. The Trillium has invited each of the candidates to submit an op-ed on a topic of their choosing.