[ARCHIVED] Ontario’s Bill 23 eliminated municipal bird friendly building guidelines. Now it’s time to put a province-wide standard in the Building Code.

Magnolia Warbler. Photo: Yuko Miki.

By Brendon Samuels, Ontario Building Code Campaign Coordinator

UPDATE: This blog post has been archived. Since changes were made to Bill 23 after the time of this blog’s publication in November 2022, details described here may no longer be accurate. Revisions made to Bill 23 at the standing committee between the second and third readings resulted in the preservation of certain sections of the Planning Act that were originally set to be changed, as described below. As a result, municipalities retain in Ontario have retained their authority to enforce bird safe building design requirements through site plan control. FLAP continues to advocate for the province to adopt a bird safe building design standard into the Ontario Building Code. Learn More

Unprecedented changes are happening in Ontario under Bill 23, but what do they mean for birds? Bill 23 will erode environmental protections under the guise of solving the housing crisis, yet the Bill offers virtually nothing to increase affordable housing. Read the joint statement by FLAP Canada and a coalition of 125 other organizations against Bill 23. Given Bill 23 has now passed, this article is about what the public can do next to limit the Bill’s harmful consequences.

A key issue for birds that’s buried in Bill 23 stems from changes to regulations that apply to new building construction in Ontario, with existing municipal standards for bird friendly design being thrown out. We unpack some of what’s going on below, focussing on implications for bird-window collisions and green building standards, and share links to help readers take action.

The only option for bird friendly building design to be implemented in Ontario moving forward is at the provincial level, which is why FLAP Canada is pushing for the CSA A460:19 Bird friendly building design standard to be incorporated into the next edition of Ontario’s Building Code. We need the public’s help with getting this message across.

FLAP Canada and collaborating partners have prepared a submission for the public consultation about the Building Code update, urging the province to incorporate the CSA A460:19 Bird-friendly building design standard into the Code, to effectively require bird friendly design in all new building construction across the province. We encourage supporters to submit comments to the Environmental Registry of Ontario link below before December 9th.

What you can do:

  1. Review our submission to the consultation about proposed changes in the next edition of the Ontario Building Code. You may wish to borrow language from this template.
  2. Submit comments through the Environmental Registry of Ontario before December 9th: https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-6211 In your submission, we suggest emphasizing the need for a province-wide bird friendly building design standard. 
  3. Share this information widely, and encourage others to make their own submissions.

Ontario municipalities have ensured new buildings are safe for birds.

A fundamental goal of FLAP Canada shared by many partners and municipalities is to ensure that the risk of bird-window collisions does not continue to grow across Ontario through new building construction. By adopting a bird friendly design standard, new development (residential, commercial and industrial) can proceed unimpeded while limiting the risk of causing bird deaths in the future. The cost of making a new building safe for birds typically represents a small fraction of less than 1 percent of the overall construction cost, and Ontario architects already know how to do it effectively. Indeed, bird friendly building design is a growing industry that offers many opportunities to add beauty, value and environmental sustainability to new buildings. 

Over the last decade, following the City of Toronto (2007), numerous other individual municipalities across Ontario have adopted their own bird friendly building design guidelines and standards, including Ajax, Aurora, Brampton, Burlington, East Gwillimbury, Fort Erie, Guelph, King, London, Markham, Mississauga, Newmarket, Ottawa, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and others. Most of these municipalities base their guidelines on Toronto’s, or more recently, on the leading CSA A460:19 Bird-friendly building design standard. Around a dozen municipalities require that new building designs are safe for birds, while others provide optional guidelines with incentives for developers to adopt them. Generally, the best way to ensure that developers comply with the guidelines is for municipalities to make them mandatory.

Bird friendly design is implemented by municipalities through site plan control – an optional series of planning tools that municipal governments use to review, provide feedback on and approve many kinds of new development. Why is site plan control important? If a development that legally requires a site plan is proposed, and plans present foreseeable issues (such as risk of unacceptable harm to the environment), then municipal governments – specifically planning staff and elected city councils – have the ability to refuse permission for that development to proceed as it is currently presented. This usually results in some back-and-forth with development proponents to refine their proposal, which is how green building standards like the Toronto Green Standard and bird friendly guidelines are proactively enforced.

Yet, site plan control has limits. For instance, site plan control does not apply to construction of single-detached homes, but single-detached homes represent the most numerous category of buildings, and thus, collisions with windows on homes are the greatest cumulative threat to birds. Few to no home builders have adopted bird friendly design in Ontario. If new homebuyers later find out that their windows are killing wild birds, it will be up to them to voluntarily treat their windows. Despite growing awareness in recent years, only a relatively small number of building owners in Ontario retrofit their windows to prevent bird collisions. Unfortunately, retrofitting larger windows on existing buildings can be more expensive (due to labor) than simply incorporating bird friendly principles into the initial building design.

Bill 23 will undo municipal progress on preventing bird-window collisions

Enter Bill 23 “ More Homes Built Faster Act” 2022. The Ontario government is proposing to change what powers municipal governments have to enforce matters related to sustainability and building exteriors through site plan control, including bird friendly building design. 

Toronto and other municipalities derive their authority to enforce bird friendly guidelines from the City of Toronto Act (section 114(5)) and the Planning Act (section 41(4)). Relevant language in these sections of the Acts is being repealed. Bill 23 initially proposed to remove “exterior design” provisions from site plan control altogether. Then, the government proposed revisions that would amend the Planning Act to remove exterior requirements from site plan control while making an exception for environmental exterior features included in the City of Toronto Act or the Municipal Act like green roofs, alternative roof services or certain other environmental standards in the construction of buildings. Despite this exception, bird friendly building design guidelines will no longer be enforceable through municipal site plan control.

An opportunity in the next edition of Ontario’s Building Code

MPP Chris Glover speaks at a rally on November 15, 2022

Historically, the Ontario provincial government has provided municipal governments with the tools necessary to enforce site plan control and shape the designs of new development. However, site plan control interacts with the Ontario Building Code in key respects. The Ontario government website provides information about the link between site plan control and the Building Code.

As Bill 23 renders municipal bird friendly guidelines obsolete, now is a critical time to ensure that the Ontario Building Code is updated to expand protection for birds across the province.

Over the last two years, FLAP Canada has led a campaign aiming to update Ontario’s Building Code to incorporate the CSA A460:19 Bird-friendly building design standard. Working together with MPP Chris Glover (Spadina-Fort York) and dozens of other MPPs from the Ontario NDP, Ontario Green Party and Ontario Liberal Party, as well as over 60 organizations from across Ontario and Canada including scientists, environmental groups, architects and wildlife rehabilitation centers, the chorus calling for bird friendly design in the Building Code has never been louder.

It seems that impacts to green standards brought about by Bill 23 may have been unintentional. Is it possible that upcoming changes to the province’s Building Code could reflect some of what has been removed from municipal site plan control? The government has not yet made their official position on changes to green standards clear. However, on November 24 we received forwarded email correspondence from a constituent sent by MPP Stephen Crawford (Progressive Conservative) who provided the following explanation (note: it is unclear whether this correspondence from MPP Crawford was sanctioned by the government, or if this is just his opinion):

“Municipalities have used site plan control as a mechanism to implement “Green Standards” that can include enhanced energy efficiency requirements and sustainability features, as well as environmentally sustainable landscaping and bird-friendly design. Bill 23 was not intended to prevent municipalities from addressing these types of matters – but to prevent municipalities from using site plan to implement unnecessary visual design requirements, like mandating a certain type of brick exterior colour or finish. Often these requirements lead to increased costs and significant delays. [Editor’s note: there is no evidence for this statement]

We recognize the important work being done by municipalities by providing them with a solid foundation for requiring green building standards in both site plan control and the Building Code. While the Ontario Building Code already contains high standards for energy efficiency that apply across the province, the additional improvements for energy efficiency and other green measures to be developed for the next edition of Ontario’s Building Code will make Ontario a national leader in green building standards, and provide a consistent approach for municipalities that choose to apply these requirements”

Take action: Submit comments before December 9

Between October 25th and December 9th, the Ontario government is conducting a public consultation about proposed changes to the next edition of the province’s Building Code through the Environmental Registry of Ontario. The public and organizations are invited to submit comments. 

Please review FLAP Canada’s submission to the consultation about proposed changes in the next edition of the Ontario Building Code. You may wish to borrow language from this template. Then, submit your own comments through the Environmental Registry of Ontario before December 9th at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-6211 In your submission, state the need for a province-wide bird friendly building design standard. Please continue to share this information widely, and encourage others who care about birds to make their own submissions.