Township disenfranchised at hearing into extra population allocations
As the county councillors with the most intimate understanding of the implications of the bonus population allocations being sought by Midhurst developers, you would expect Springwater Mayor Bill French and Deputy Mayor Don Allen to play an important role at the county’s upcoming hearing into the applications.
At last week’s county council meeting, French and Allen announced that they would be recusing themselves from participation in the semi-judicial hearing to be held in May at which councillors are to play the role of judges. French and Allen have received legal advice to the effect that “judges” have to be free from “bias.”
The “problem” is that Springwater Township voted unanimously in January against supporting the Midhurst developers’ applications for an extra 7,500 population, stating “it would not be in the public interest to further accelerate development approvals in Springwater solely on account of a discretionary county allocation program.”
As politicians, French and Allen can be seen to have done what they were elected to do – take a stand on an important matter affecting the future of our rural township.
But as “judges,” the view is that they have shown “bias” and therefore cannot be allowed to participate when this issue is decided by the county.
The importance of the issue is demonstrated by the fact that the Midhurst developers have already taken it to the Ontario Municipal Board in advance of any decision made by county council, asking the board to determine whether it can decide on the population allocations without county approval, or even reverse a possible county denial of the request. A hearing is set for July.
To head off any interference by the OMB, the county has decided to go with a hearing process under the Statutory Powers Procedure Act. It will involve a staff report along with written submissions from interested parties at a committee-of-the-whole meeting on May 10, followed by an oral hearing and a decision at the May 24 council meeting.
The goal: to be able to demonstrate that the county’s process is “fair, open and transparent” and head off any interference by the OMB.
The OMB process has become so toxic that one can only applaud any attempt to keep this body from interfering.
But the solution is no better than the problem it aims to solve.
The issue is that we didn’t elect them to be judges.
We elected them to take political decisions based on their undertakings to the electorate and their knowledge of their municipality.
Granting these “bonus” population allocations was a political act by then Municipal Affairs Minister Bob Chiarelli.
Voting against any support of their use in Springwater was a political response by Springwater Council.
And granting or not granting the extra 7,500 requested for Midhurst will be a political decision by Simcoe County Council.
In a county council discussion April 12 (before he had recused himself), French suggested that the process would work better if the reports were to be delivered and the oral hearing were to take place on the same day, with a debate by county council and a decision two weeks later, after there had been time to digest the material.
County lawyer Marshall Green suggested that would not be viewed as a fair process because of the potential for lobbying between the date of the hearing and the delivery of the decision. While judges reserve their decision, this happens in what Green describes as a “limited sphere.”
The ridiculous part is that county councillors are not above the fray, in the sense that a judge might be. They have been been lobbied by the Midhurst developers. In August, 2015, lawyers with two different law firms sent letters to all county councillors on behalf of the Midhurst Landowners Group complaining of the actions of the Springwater mayor and deputy mayor. The letters did not appear in council’s public agenda package but were obtained by AWARE Simcoe through a Freedom of Information request. Similar lawyers’ letters were sent to Springwater councillors and members of the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority.
Who knows what other contact there has been? A key AWARE Simcoe demand in the last election was for a lobbyist registry (many successful candidates said they favoured one), so that there is openness and transparency in terms of what contacts our politicians have with corporations and unions.
The OMB process does not serve county or township residents, as Simcoe County rightly suggests. But neither does this pretend-judicial process.
Springwater residents have a right to have their voice heard when the county makes this decision. They have been disenfranchised.