Jacques Boissinot The Canadian Press “I understand that we have to build housing, but does that mean that we want to give the right to everything, everything, build everything? » asks the MP for Mille-Îles, the Liberal Virginie Dufour.
To accelerate the construction of housing, the Minister responsible for Housing, France-Élaine Duranceau, wants to allow cities to ignore all their regulations regarding zoning and urban planning. A measure that went unnoticed among the many amendments made to Bill 31 on housing.
“I understand that we have to build housing, but does that mean that we want to give the right to everything, everything, build everything? » asks the MP for Mille-Îles, the Liberal Virginie Dufour.
Amendment 37.2 stipulates that a city will be able to authorize all projects of three or more housing units without taking into account its planning regulations if it has at least 10,000 inhabitants and its vacancy rate is below 3%. . This exceptional regime would be in force for a period of five years.
Last week, Ms. Dufour followed Minister Duranceau on this subject, during the study of the amendments in Parliament. She sees it as a “denial of democracy” since citizens would lose the right to hold a local referendum to contest zoning changes.
“This means that if in a single-family residential sector, someone buys a few houses and decides to build a five-story tower and the municipal council agrees, the neighbors will no longer be able to say anything,” denounces the MP, who was a municipal councilor in Laval before being elected to the National Assembly in 2022.
The Order of Urban Planners of Quebec is also concerned. On Monday, he “warned” the government against “piecemeal densification, via exceptional procedures”. “It is essential to densify our cities, but it must be done thoughtfully, with an overall vision and transparent rules. »
An “exceptional” measure against “molasses”
Originally, Bill 31 focused on relations between tenants and landlords. He was especially talked about for the highly publicized revision of the rules surrounding the transfer of leases. But the amendments presented in recent weeks cast a much wider net and introduce all kinds of measures tackling the housing crisis.
Minister Duranceau says that if these amendments are adopted, waiting times for construction projects could decrease by one year in Montreal. As for article 37.2, the scale of the housing crisis justifies it, according to her. “This is an exceptional situation, and we believe exceptional powers are necessary. It’s not free-for-all,” she said to defend herself in the parliamentary committee. She also argued that municipalities were not required to use this power.
In addition to the right to a referendum, elected officials could also avoid several steps, such as the opinion of the urban planning advisory committee, the authorization of the demolition committee to be obtained before replacing an existing building and various compliance verification mechanisms. of the project with the regulations in force.
“We are providing flexibility. It's all stuck in molasses, it's too slow, too restrictive. There is a crisis, we must act,” explained Ms. Duranceau.
For their part, the associations which represent mayors seem delighted. “These measures offer a rapid response to facilitate the processing of requests, pending a more in-depth reform of the law and the referendum approval process,” declared the president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec, Martin Damphousse. /p>
Expected increase in land value
MP Dufour would have liked this expressway to be reserved for non-profit housing projects. In her discussions with the minister, she argued that regulatory relief of this magnitude would arouse the appetite of developers and drive up land prices. Non-profit organizations “are going to have a hard time competing,” she repeated.
The Liberal elected official also said she feared that the door would be opened to favoritism, or even of collusion, by giving too much room to case-by-case negotiations between cities and developers on the zoning to recommend.
In parliamentary committee, Minister Duranceau replied that her concerns were unfounded. “This measure will attract attention, so the municipalities that take advantage of it will be in the spotlight and will act according to the rules of the art. »
Ms. Dufour believes instead that a question of this importance should have been debated in a separate bill. “I am not necessarily against this amendment, but we did not consult anyone. And I want us to be able to consult people on this because it is a major change of direction in the way of managing projects in Quebec. »
According to Professor Laurence Bherer, an expert in public consultation at the University of Montreal, “we cannot resolve this in an amendment.” “We need collective reflection, to carry out a major project on public participation,” she maintains.
The researcher emphasizes that public consultation procedures will play a crucial role in the years future. “It’s not by skipping steps that we’re going to solve the problems. »
Remember that this is not the first time that municipal referendums have been in the government's sights. Five years ago, under the leadership of the former mayor of Quebec Régis Labeaume, the groups of elected officials asked the government to abolish them within the framework of Bill 122.
The Minister of Municipal Affairs at the time, the Liberal Martin Coiteux, agreed to move forward and gave the right to all cities that wished to abolish referendums. However, in the years that followed, only a handful of them did so, with the others claiming that the procedure to follow was too restrictive.
The parliamentary committee on Bill 31 has adjourned the detailed study on November 8. We will have to wait until at least the resumption of parliamentary work on November 21 to know when it will meet again.
The articles of the bill which concern the transfer of lease have not yet been adopted . If Minister Duranceau wishes to have the bill adopted before Christmas, she has a total of 11 days of parliamentary work remaining.