Coun. Deb Doherty wants to deep six Bill 66.
On Dec. 6, the provincial government introduced and read for a first time Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018. Municipalities have until Jan. 20 to provide comments to the province on the bill.
“I am deeply concerned about the implications of Schedule 10 of Bill 66 on the health of our community members and the environment,” said Coun. Deb Doherty in a lengthy prepared statement on the bill.
Bill 66 would allow commercial development to move past laws that have been in place for many years and were meant to protect the natural environment and the health of residents.
“It will reduce the amount of review that new development opportunities have to go through,” said Nancy Farrer, director of planning services for the Town of Collingwood told council when summarizing the bill on Monday night. “The other side of this is that a lot of the checks and balances we have in place to ensure that planning is done in an environmentally friendly and economically sustainable manner are being put aside in order to make allowances for economic development.”
According to the staff report, there are a number of aspects to the legislation that are not known at this time.
While Doherty generally agreed with the comments brought forward in the staff report on the bill, she took issue with the Schedule 10 component.
Schedule 10 allows local municipalities to pass open-for-business planning bylaws, without a requirement for public consultation. This means that development projects can be fast-tracked if they can demonstrate that there are employment uses for the development for 50 jobs or more.
Local environmental groups such as the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition have brought forward concerns that since development applications approved under the open-for-business bylaw sidestep public consultation and many environmental regulations, it could lead to land uses that contaminate water and destroy protected green spaces.
“Any legislation that would propose to supercede the Clean Water Act has potential to put every resident in Ontario at risk of a possible repetition of Walkerton,” said Doherty. “This is one thing that Schedule 10 proposes to do. The Greenbelt Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and the... Places to Grow Act are all significant pieces of legislation designed to protect and benefit the residents of Ontario from uncontrolled, unregulated development.”
“This legislation would mean that applications would not be subject to urban design guidelines,” she said. “We’ve already seen how developments can run awry of our planning and building rules, even when these rules are in place.”
“This flies in the face of this council’s commitment to open, transparent and accountable governance,” said Doherty, referring to the removal of the public consultation requirement.
Doherty listed off municipalities that have already passed resolutions opposing Bill 66 including Barrie, Burlington, Hamilton, Halton Hills and Guelph.
“In my view, there is no need to undertake any activity to further open up lands for industrial use. We have previously spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending the sanctity of the Silver Creek wetlands.”
“No development, large or small, should be able to bypass regulations that protect sensitive natural areas,” she said.
CAO Fareed Amin explained that the intention of the bill is to provide more autonomy to municipalities.
“There’s nothing in here that forces a municipality to act in an irresponsible way,” said Amin. “This is an attempt to try and enhance the competitiveness of Ontario municipalities.”
“One of the big issues that’s impacting investment attraction across Ontario is the length of planning applications and related studies to support a development,” he said.
“This is an option municipalities will have. They can choose not to exercise that option,” said Amin.
Amin suggested that it would be more helpful if council provided the province with some recommendations on what the legislation should include.
“I don’t disagree with Coun. Doherty’s assessment of what could happen, but I think... that could potentially be the worst-case scenario. There are many municipalities that could exercise that option but in a responsible way,” he said.
“My impression of this (provincial) government is, when you say no, they proceed,” said Mayor Brian Saunderson. “So, what we’re trying to do is direct them with changes that might make this legislation palatable. We’re trying to make constructive criticism that we feel may influence the outcome.”
Council voted 7-2 to submit their comments to the province with Coun. Tina Comi and Doherty opposed.
Town of Collingwood comments on Bill 66 to be provided to the province
"The Town of Collingwood supports any legislation that, in principle, supports the economic development in our community. However, in light of the unanswered questions raised by Schedule 10 of Bill 66, relative to its impacts on future planning applications and the ability of council and the public to maintain our commitment to protecting our shared environment and the safety of our residents for future generations, the Town of Collingwood does not support Bill 66 in its current form.
Further that, council requests that these comments included in the proposed Schedule 10 be amended from its current form to ensure that municipalities should be obligated to set their own rules should they wish to utilize the enabling legislation to ensure that best planning principles, environmental practices and public consultation as well as principles of other legislation for investments that are complimentary and compatible to our respective municipality."