No, the sky is not falling. Municipal governments opposing Bill 66 are acting like it may, and bowing to interest group pressure.
The omnibus Bill 66 increases municipal government responsibility and accountability in municipal planning and governance. The Ford government recognizes that the regulations imposed under various planning acts puts handcuffs on municipalities and creates barriers to growth, employment, and housing issues specific to each municipality in Ontario.
Under the earlier Liberal administrations’ decision making for municipalities created tremendous government oversight and red tape. It not only allowed municipal governments to transfer the blame to the provincial governments, the onerous red tape was a blanket policy for the entire province taking away a municipality the right to self-govern. Bill 66 Open for Business provisions allow municipalities to create bylaws and approve development according to the needs and wishes of their own city, and those constituents they serve.
Second reading of Bill 66 will take place when the Legislature is open next session on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. Amendments to the Planning Act (Open for Business Tool) fast tracks permanent job creating opportunities by allowing municipalities to apply for and receive approval from the Ministry to pass “open for business” bylaws.
Oversight stays, and the Environmental Assessment Act and environmental assessment process stays and not altered under Bill 66, so the spirit of protecting the environment stays. The conditions are property and site specific and not applicable to an entire municipality.
Changes to the Planning Act are not backdoor permissions to the municipalities to approve development in the Greenbelt and other protected areas. Protected by the Environmental Assessment Act and current environmental processes, the public is not at risk of destroying their food and water supply.
Public consultation is still open and not prohibited. This allows for a municipal government, its’ stakeholders, and residents to engage in the process and make decisions for the betterment of their city or town. Public consultation allows for engagement and planning best suited for a specific community.
Municipal opposition to Bill 66 is puzzling when it is within the power of a city council to allow for public consultation. This puts the responsibility and accountability onto the municipal government to be transparent, act responsibly and do what is best for the residents in their authority.
Environmental protection and planning regulations have and always will be a balancing act. The provincial government is bringing in legislation that allows a municipality the breadth to make decisions specific to their housing and job market needs. It does not threaten the Greenbelt and other protected areas if the municipality acts responsibly, and the public is engaged. This will increase voter engagement at city halls across the province, and in municipal elections.
Nothing in the Open for Business section in Bill 66 suggests encroachment on protected areas. Opposition to the bill infers that developers would have onerous powers if Bill 66 passes, in respect to planning. This is an open and transparent piece of legislation that details the process, does not repeal the Environmental Protection Act, and allows for oversight by the applicable provincial ministry, rather than restrictive legislation that deadlocks the conversation and planning processes.
Alarming that city councils across Ontario are giving the message that without provincial intervention they cannot entrusted do the right thing, protect local water and farmland, and may or be perceived to cow tail to developers. Bill 66 transfers the power to create bylaws to override provincially mandated environmental protection policies. If a municipality decides not to opt for an exemption, there is no mandatory requirement for them to do so.
Guelph has a housing issue, as do many other growing municipalities. Bill 66 would allow housing at a faster pace, and more productive processes. This local planning would bring municipal officials, developers, and environmentalists together to develop planning that serves the community. Every town and city in Ontario have different density targets, so it makes sense to have these decisions at the local level.
A city like Toronto has vastly different needs then Guelph or Lake Simcoe. Having the decision-making process at the local level is logical. Having Big Brother watch over them is not necessary. For opposition to decry fears over manipulation and self-serving planners and elected officials is akin to say the sky is falling with no reason to believe it.
Why would a city council oppose to being able to run the municipality in the best interests of its electorate? Assuming that without oversight they would not be able to just does not make sense. City council opposition to Open for Business allowances is saying they do not want the responsibility nor blame for municipal development. Alarming the City of Guelph council voted unanimously in favor to oppose to Bill 66, with specific reference to changes to the Planning Act.
Blue skies will prevail. It will not stop the Chicken Little conversations, meetings, and protests, nor the fear mongering. It will put public engagement in municipal planning accountable to the electorate. It will widen the conversation between council, stakeholders, developers, and constituents.
It will increase municipal government accountability and responsibility to engage with the public, supply full transparency and adhere to the wishes of constituents.
Is that not responsible government?