Science versus North Bay council
Who is qualified to determine what species should be ‘driven into extinction?’
By Gord Miller North Bay Nugget Jan 18 2019
Currently before the Legislature, Bill 66 threatens to unravel a wide range of environmental protections in Ontario’s land use planning rules.
This week, North Bay council took an action which highlights those concerns. Council passed a motion requesting the province to exclude all land, streams and lakes within the city’s urban settlement area from the Endangered Species Act.
Apparently the North Bay council sees itself as a better arbiter of what species should be driven to extinction in Ontario than the best scientists working within the province’s listing process under The Endangered Species Act.
Bill 66 would amend the Planning Act to empower municipal councils to pass open-for-business planning bylaws that would enable those councils to permit development and ignore a range of provincial legislation that was passed to protect specific environmental features and values.
The Greenbelt Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and the Clean Water Act are all examples of legislation that was passed to improve land use planning but could be overridden by the proposed Bill 66 changes. (It must be noted for the attention of North Bay council that the Endangered Species Act is specifically not listed in Bill 66.)
Some observers have suggested that the threat of Bill 66 is overstated because many of the targeted laws have the broad support of citizens in municipalities facing intense development pressures. The assumption is that those municipal councils would not dare compromise environmental standards supported by their voters.
But this is where the action of North Bay council becomes so illustrative.
Municipal councils are composed largely of lay people. They do not have the perspective and awareness of the complexity of the issues weighed by the Legislature when those pieces of planning legislation were passed. Councillors are subject to the immediate pressures of developers wanting to get things done and the frustrations of what seem to be unnecessary delays.
Bill 66 would make it too easy for councils to ignore the long-term consequences and to grasp for simplistic exemptions in the form of “open for business” bylaws. That is why planning rules backed by provincial legislation are essential to the integrity of good governance.
Bill 66 opens a Pandora’s box of arbitrary planning decisions by poorly informed councils. The outcome will be divisive, with costly cycles of re-hashed conflicts over matters that have already been studied, debated and resolved by long-standing provincial legislation.
Bill 66 can result in a Wild West patchwork of rules, and adjacent municipalities would be forced to “race to the bottom.” Whoever can show the weakest environmental safeguards will win the development project. The resulting chaos will not be good for the environment and it will certainly not be good for business.
Gord Miller was Environmental Commissioner of Ontario from 2000-2015