AWARE Simcoe submission on Bill 66
For Transparency, Accountability, Water, Health and the Environment
AWARE Simcoe submission to the Ontario government regarding Bill 66 proposed Act:
ERO Number 013 – 4125 https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4125 Bill 66 proposed Regulation:
ERO Number 013 – 4239 https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4239
This submission deals with Bill 66, ‘Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act,’ an omnibus bill that affects existing legislation covering a wide range of fields, including agriculture and toxic substances. AWARE Simcoe has concerns with many of the measures proposed but will focus on Schedule 10, which would allow municipalities to approve “open for business” bylaws.
Government behind closed doors
AWARE Simcoe’s first concern is the lack of due process in the planning regime proposed under Bill 66. It removes from municipalities any requirement to provide public notice or information about any application for an open for business bylaw.
The municipality will not be required to hold any public hearing or meeting during the time period that the application for an open for business bylaw is being considered by councillors behind closed doors.
The public will not be notified after a council passes an open for business bylaw (which does not come into effect until approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing).
Yet any such bylaw has the potential for adverse effects that are best discussed and, if possible, addressed before, rather than after, approval. Neighbours may see loss of quality of life and property values. Existing businesses may face a competitor that has been given a significant economic advantage. Other levels of government and agencies may find their plans affected, for instance with regard to providing water and waste infrastructure, or guarding against extreme weather impacts.
Once the public becomes aware of the change in land use conferred by the “open for business” bylaw (probably when the trees are being cut and the land cleared), there is no possibility of appeal to LPAT (formerly the OMB).
This is not the way we have done planning in Ontario. AWARE Simcoe’s mission is, in part, to work for transparency and accountability in government. We urge that all aspects of Bill 66 that curtail public engagement be removed.
Chaos and recklessness
Bill 66 will throw Ontario’s land-use planning into chaos. AWARE Simcoe sees many deficiencies in the current regime, but nevertheless, since the days of Premier Bill Davis, there has been a steady progression based on promotion of orderly growth, care for public health, and stewardship of farmland and natural heritage.
This has been the planning framework:
– At the provincial level, planning is guided by the Provincial Policy Statement (introduced in 1996 by an earlier Progressive Conservative government). The PPS is aimed at providing a coordinated, integrated and comprehensive approach when dealing with planning matters within municipalities, across lower, single and/or upper-tier municipal boundaries, and with other orders of government, agencies and boards.
– At the local level, planning is set out in municipal Official Plans that lay out how land should be used and are prepared with extensive input from the public. This is one of the most important ways people interact with their government and have a say in the future of their community. OPs help to ensure, for instance, that prospective homeowners can determine what is planned for a neighbourhood, and prospective businesses can find areas where services are to be maintained or rolled out.
Bill 66 sets aside any requirements that an “open for business” bylaw comply with the Provincial Policy Statement or the municipality’s Official Plan. It also sets aside any requirement that other levels of government or agencies be consulted.
AWARE Simcoe is particularly concerned that the approval process appears to bypass input from Conservation Authorities and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Municipalities do not have staff with the expertise to assess and address environmental and health threats that may arise from an application, or evaluate advice from an applicant’s consultant – who cannot be assumed to be impartial or objective. Bill 66 allows for “open for business” bylaws to facilitate development randomly across the province without coordination or expert evaluation.
Ontario introduced the Clean Water Act in 2006, in the wake of a great tragedy – the E. coli contamination of Walkerton’s drinking water, resulting in seven deaths and hundreds made sick. A Progressive Conservative government’s undermining of regulatory process was a major cause of this tragedy. That Progressive Conservative government undertook to follow all of the Walkerton Inquiry’s recommendations, and introduced the Clean Water Act as evidence of its commitment that such a tragedy would never happen again. The CWA hasn’t solved all problems. It addresses municipal water systems, but leaves many private wells and vulnerable aquifers without protection from contamination or over-extraction. Still, less than 20 years after Walkerton, this Progressive Conservative government is prepared to set it aside! AWARE Simcoe finds that incomprehensible.
Bill 66 also affects the Places to Grow Act (2005), the Greenbelt Act (2005), the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act (2001) and the Great Lakes Protection Act (2015). AWARE Simcoe does not have the resources to look at all the implications of Bill 66, but we will comment on its effect on Lake Simcoe and the Greenbelt.
– The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan – in place since 2014 to address long-term environmental issues in Lake Simcoe – calls for phosphorus to be reduced by 40% to 44 tonnes per year and for shorelines, wetlands and forests to be protected. These measures are in place in order to prevent algae blooms and weed growth and protect our cold-water fishery (e.g. lake trout and whitefish). Exempting new development proposals from the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan presents a massive new threat to Lake Simcoe, which is only beginning to recover from decades of recklessness and neglect.
– Ontario’s Greenbelt has protected 1.8 million acres of farmland, local food supplies, the headwaters of our rivers and important forests and wildlife habitat for over 12 years. We are advised that it generates 9.1 billion dollars in revenue each year, creating 161,000 local jobs across 28 municipalities. It ensures our food security by providing us with local food, encouraging young farmers to step in. Its boundaries provide clarity for developers.
Who wants this?
Speculators – There is a surplus of serviced employment lands within Simcoe County. Bill 66 raises the possibility of a variety of scenarios under which these employment lands, designated in a responsible manner as part of a community-wide process, will become devalued and left vacant in favour of protected lands adjacent to settlement areas. The natural “buffer” between Barrie and Midhurst is one example where land has been purchased to be held in case something like Bill 66 could free it for development. (Once that buffer is breached, annexation by the city is only a breath away – note what happened to Vespra Township in 1981). Another scenario is that protected farmland or natural heritage land close to a settlement area is picked up at a low price with the aim of meeting behind closed doors with a friendly municipal council to secure a land-use change and immediate exponential increase in the value of the asset. There will then be pressure on the municipality to add even more value to the asset by providing services. The cost will fall largely on existing taxpayers if current plans to lower development charges are also pursued. The Greenbelt Act aimed to curtail this kind of speculation and unfair burden, and ease the pressure on municipalities.
Unsophisticated municipal governments – No experienced municipal government would willingly give up the safeguards provided by legislation like the Clean Water Act, the expertise that comes with consultation with other agencies and levels of government, and the consensus that arises from involving the public. No responsible municipal government would relish the opportunity to spring surprises – good or bad – on their residents, because good government results from widespread engagement. Unfortunately Bill 66 has the potential of triggering a race to the bottom, pitting one municipality against another, if one implements an open for business bylaw and another does not.
AWARE Simcoe’s mission is, in part, to protect water, health and the environment. We urge that all aspects of Bill 66 that endanger clean water, public health, farmland and our natural heritage be removed.
Is Bill 66 addressing the wrong problem?
Are the delays in the planning process solely the fault of municipalities? Bill 66 targets municipalities but two other players are involved:
– Data from municipal plans show that over the last 10 years, the delays in getting houses on the market are mainly due to developer-generated legal challenges. In fact, regional municipalities developed their official plans and the province approved them quite quickly, at an average of 1.5 years. In every case, implementation of these plans was blocked by developers through appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). They appealed because they did not want to build within cities and towns but rather wanted to build subdivisions on farmland. These appeals delayed plan implementation by an average of another 3.5 years, thus slowing the development of lands that were actually ready for development.
– The province itself causes delays. We often hear from municipal staff that they are “still waiting” to hear back from one ministry or another. Yet, as already referenced, the feedback from experts employed by the province can be invaluable. One solution would be for Ontario to streamline its responses to applicants with a one-portal application process with deadlines to ensure applications are handled in a timely manner by staff at the Ministries of Municipal Affairs and Housing; Natural Resources and Forestry; Environment, Conservation and Parks; and Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. One reason for delays may be that successive governments slashed staff at these ministries (particularly Environment and Natural Resources) without regard for the effect on business of their cuts.
No developments, large or small, should be allowed to by-pass the regulations that protect farmland, water and natural heritage. We live in one of Canada’s most fertile areas. We have good groundwater. Our forests, wetlands and natural areas support tourism as well as biodiversity. As our population grows, the need to protect farmland and water becomes more urgent.
AWARE Simcoe takes note of the submission by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which describes Schedule 10 of Bill 66 as a direct attack on the family farm businesses, farm input supply businesses and food processing businesses located throughout Ontario. We support many of their concerns.
Farmland, water and natural heritage are all under threat. With regard to nature, we have already lost so much, leading to impoverished biodiversity and sterile environments. Southern Ontario was once covered with forests, interspersed with wetlands, lakes and rivers. Almost three-quarters of the wetlands have been lost, while southern Ontario as a whole has only about 25 per cent of forest cover remaining. In the span of most our lifetimes, since 1970, humanity has wiped out 60% of wildlife. Ontario must play its part in reversing this trend.
Our problem is not that we have too much regulation. We have too little! And what we have is often ignored! Last year, York Region and the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority approved a 1,073-unit subdivision on provincially significant wetland despite the fact that the project was in violation of the region’s Official Plan and the Provincial Policy Statement.
What we need – from Ontario – is more efficiency and better enforcement. Good regulation, continually revised and streamlined with public involvement to keep up with changing requirements, can reverse the adverse impact of what our society does in order for us to live happy and prosperous lives, in harmony with the other species with which we share this planet. Together, we can do it!
Our first two recommendations go to the heart of Schedule 10 of Bill 66. It is misguided in its intent, and poorly drafted in its execution. Therefore, we call on the Ontario government to eliminate Schedule 10 in its entirety.
on behalf of AWARE Simcoe
Kate Harries, director
January 19, 2019