• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Midhurst meeting on Bill 66

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In Adjala-Tosorontio
Jan 9th, 2019
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Collingwood Councillor Deb Doherty makes a point at Tuesday’s meeting in Midhurst. -AWARE Simcoe photo

Concerns include loss of protection, lack of transparency

By Kate Harries AWARE News Network

Concern and even alarm were the predominant sentiments expressed at a Midhurst meeting on Bill 66 held by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition on Tuesday October 8. Around 140 people were there, from all over the county. Among them were elected officials from half a dozen municipalities, including Barrie, Collingwood, New Tecumseth, Tiny, Oro-Medonte, Springwater and even Blue Mountains.

One issue was how developer influence will change the landscape if Bill 66 passes – because of the way it overrides protections presently assured by the Clean Water Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, the Greenbelt Act, the Places to Grow Act and others – as well as by local Official Plans.

Municipal councils are subject to extreme pressure from the development industry, said guest speaker Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence.

In answer to a question from Collingwood Councillor Deb Doherty, Gray noted that it will be possible for a developer to purchase land in a protected area, for instance in the Greenbelt or within the Lake Simcoe watershed, and then convince a majority of councillors to have a secret meeting to change the land use.

Margaret Prophet and Tim Gray -AWARE Simcoe photo

“We don’t have the kind of controls around developer influence that we have at the provincial political level or at the federal level,” said Gray, “So the money that’s involved coming from the development community that puts pressure on elected officials (that) is very, very high.”

Bill 66, known as the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, is in the early stages of progress to legislation. It removes the transparency requirements under the Planning Act, and other legislation, providing

Margaret Prophet and Tim Gray

for passage of bylaws with no prior public notice and discussion behind closed doors.

The Ford government says that it will be used for projects that would create at least 50 jobs in municipalities with less than 250,000 people. While employment must be the main purpose, projects can include residential and commercial uses.

Bill 66 runs counter to a growing trend since the 1970s, that involved governments of all political stripes, to identify where development is appropriate and where it isn’t, Gray said. Part of the goal has been to have farmland valued as farmland, keeping speculators away and making it possible for young people to get into farming.

“All that changes once this bill passes,” Gray said. “All that farmland is no longer just farmland.” It becomes potential development land and speculation takes off. “We’ve been trying to get away from that.” He noted that there is already a surplus of designated, serviced employment lands in Simcoe County – a total of 2,919 hectares.

The ramifications of Bill 66 are many. For one thing, the cost to the existing taxpayer of providing new infrastructure will rise, Gray said. Already, it is recognized that development does not pay for itself and the local municipality has to assume a portion of the new costs, adding them to the existing ratepayers’ tax bill.

Another issue is that for rural municipalities with a relatively low tax base and spread-out population, the cost of sprawl will be particularly burdensome, Gray predicted, particularly as the Ford government plans to ease the burden on developers and reduce development charges.

“You as the taxpayer will get to subsidize the new development,” Gray told the crowd.

Furthermore, Bill 66 will set up municipalities for competition with each other in a race to the bottom, Gray said. “If you change the rules so that environmental protection is seen as a luxury, because if you don’t decide to destroy the environment around your community, maybe the next community down the road will decide to do it instead.”

Oro Medonte Councillor Scott Macpherson pointed out that Bill 66 gives more power to municipalities and local decision-making.

“I’ve heard this argument from provincial officials,” Gray said. “We’re empowering the local municipal decision-makers, but we’re also going to help make sure that the people who live in the local communities don’t know about the proposed bylaw, aren’t consulted, don’t have a public meeting, and can’t appeal.

“I don’t know, that seems fishy,” he said to laughter from the crowd.

Gray said the government is not being truthful about the effect of the bill. “They’re just denying that the bill does what it does. They’re saying it doesn’t open up the Greenbelt, which is just a bald-faced lie. The bill specifically does that, it specifically opens up source water protection areas, the Lake Simcoe watershed etcetera.”

After working in environmental protection for 25 years, Gray said he’s used to spin – but “even I can be shocked and appalled by this political behaviour.”

Barrie planner Al McNair said provincial officials have told him that the powers being conveyed to municipalities are like those provided for in ministerial zoning orders, used in the past to override local municipal decisions.

The history of such orders is that they have been used sparingly, in exceptional situations where municipalities refused to put in any appropriate land use controls, McNair said, recalling the sprawl that spread north of Barrie into Vespra Township in the 1960s and ‘70s.

They were used “to freeze things until you had at least some semblance of municipal planning control in place,” McNair said. “Where this is turning the whole thing completely on its head – we’re empowering municipalities to go back to the bad old days when they didn’t have any rules and I think it’s just bloody stupid!”

Gray added that Bill 66 totally changes the structure of planning, from a ministerial intervention being a special case to “just this routine violation of all these land use protection rules all around the province.”

The final problem with Bill 66 is that it erodes local democracy, Gray said, by allowing secret meetings of council to approve development in protected areas.

The solution is for councils to refuse to use the undemocratic powers provided to them under Bill 66. Already, some municipalities have taken a stand against Bill 66 and passed resolutions to state that if passed, they won’t be using its provisions.

Doherty said she hopes Collingwood will do the same, and Barrie Councillors Keenan Aylwin and Natalie Harris said they will be putting forward a resolution to that effect next week.

Nancy McBride from Tottenham warned others in attendance to pressure politicians against removing protection. “The protections that we already have are not enough,” she said, explaining that the water in Tottenham is brown and “terrible.” Whether it’s federal, provincial or municipal, “you’ve got a bunch of people that have ignored us from all levels of government and our requests for clean water have been ignored.”

People think they are protected, but in fact what is in place are guidelines, “policies that we (governments) may or not decide to follow.” She called on residents to become involved. Hoping for the best won’t cut it, she said. “it takes everybody telling everybody else that we need to act – because this is a worldwide crisis.”

Her words echoed those of Vickie Monague of Beausoleil First Nation, who opened the meeting with a resounding call on people to become engaged. “If we fail to act, we grow the burden on future generations,” she said.

9 Responses to “Midhurst meeting on Bill 66”

  1. Donald Kerr says:

    I know how bad is Schedule 10 of Bill 66. I want to know what is the best strategy for killing Schedule 10. Do we have a detailed strategy? Most of Bill 66 is harmless or at least of no concern for our ecosystem. What is the best approach for killing Schedule 10? Give Ford some of it so he can still win something but we must kill Schedule 10.

  2. Allan says:

    Councillor Macpherson’s comment about Bill 66 giving more power to municipalities in decision making is almost laughable. The mayor of Oro-Medonte and Premiere Ford’s recent ‘meeting-of-the-minds’ might have been to congratulate the township on being ahead of the game which has become Bill 66. Empowered or not, OM has a long record of secret meetings, poorly informing residents of proposed by-laws and public meetings, and ignoring resident opposition resulting in numerous trips to the OMB at taxpayer expense. What’s new pussycat? Hopefully, sorry Ms. McBride, the new additions to our council will break that pattern.

    • Not sure why you are apologizing to me?

      • Allan says:

        Nancy McBride. I was not really apologising to you, I was referring to your statement, “Hoping for the best won’t cut it.” I AM hoping and trusting that Oro-Medonte’s new council members will change the pattern of our former council and instead, use their power of office to protect the things that Bill 66 potentially makes vulnerable. We elected them believing that they’ll act in our collective best interest. Have a little faith – there is more than enough cynicism and fear mongering out there. Why would councillors who live in the same place as we do, not want to protect it? The problem is with people like Ford who are myopic, govern from a distance, and foster the urban rural divide.

  3. It was an excellent meeting! Thank you for the article.

    I urge everyone to attend local meetings in your area to become informed. We cannot turn a blind eye to what Ford is doing to strip back protections when they are already at a bare minimum. The planet has already entered this world water crisis. We are naive if we believe these Acts and Protections were ever safe or enough. Start with questioning your mayor and local councillors to see if they will publicly reject Bill 66.

    • Cheyenne says:

      & most certainly your MPP’s if you have one who is on the job?
      #JimWilson ~ we do still need an active place to state our point of view!!!

      Doug Ford, where is our representation in the absence of MPP Wilson!!??

  4. Bill French says:

    The reality is that Bill 66 was concocted by the large land bank speculators. More employment lands or rezoned areas will not create one job except for an expanded bankruptcy industry as municipalities fail as they have done in the USA. There are no benefits to Bill 66 except to those that want to pad their pockets. The government needs to clean up their own red tape such as implementing a one portal planning approval system as the delays in development are related to Ministries and slow responding and changing positions of local Conservation Authorities. Beware of those that support Bill 66 or are neutral. Check their relationships!

  5. Ken says:

    What makes anyone want to destroy what is so precious? Clean water, clean air, forests, clean lakes! We for the most part have had access to this over the years. Do our children and grandchildren not deserve the same? What is it I am missing that money seems to override sensibility?

  6. Donna Deneault says:

    Lack of transparency and loss of protections is so blatant in this Bill 66. I have emailed our MPP but sadly they’re just given a “script”. The idea of them holding secret meetings is an outrage. Let’s never give up on this.

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