Clark and Ford bow to pressure over Bill 66

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A controversial part of the Ontario Government’s Bill 66, which was part of the “Open for Business” policy of the Ford government, has been abandoned and will not be part of the final Act. Following the introduction of the Bill, opposition to Schedule 10 of the proposed legislation caused deep concern among opposition parties, environmentalists and many citizens. The Schedule would have potentially opened up development in Greenbelt areas in the province, and eased restrictions on regulations governing public water supplies.

Under the portion of the proposed law, municipalities would have been able to pass a by-law to request provincial approval to override certain regulations governing both the Planning Act and the Clean Water Act. In letters to the Editor in the NG Times recently, these concerns were expressed by Phil Mosher, a former Planning Department employee with the Municipality of North Grenville, and local resident, Colin Creasey. Phil pointed out that the proposed legislation “would allow a local council to approve a development without the required public consultation process. In addition, a council could also bypass the Provincial Policy Statements for which all development in Ontario is required to adhere.

Regarding the Clean Water Act, it appears these by-laws would potentially allow for a municipal council to not have regard for source water protection”.

Colin warned of the potential dangers that relaxing regulations under the Clean Water Act could have. “The last time that a Conservative government relaxed the regulations on water quality just to save money, it resulted in costing seven people in Walkerton their lives. Based on the foregoing, I have absolutely no confidence in that this government will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for those municipal politicians who can be “persuaded” by, or are friends of, the development industry.”

These concerns have now been allayed by the announcement by Steve Clark, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and our local M.P.P., that this section of Bill 66 is being abandoned by the government. In a Tweet, and using the official self-description of the Ford government, he stated that “our Government for the People has listened to the concerns raised by MPPs, municipalities and stakeholders with regards to Schedule 10 of Bill 66 and when the legislature returns in February, we will not proceed with Schedule 10 of the Bill.”

The decision was welcomed by the leader of the Green Party, Mike Schreiner, who said that the government was forced to back down because of public opposition to its plan. “People were clear during the election,” he said. “And they have been clear since Bill 66 was introduced: the people of Ontario want to protect the Greenbelt and clean water.”

A spokesperson for the NDP, climate change critic Peter Tabuns, credited concerned people and groups, including municipalities, environmental advocates, agricultural organizations”, as well as his own Party, for bringing about this change of direction by the Ford government.

The reversal on Bill 66 may take the shine off the recognition received by the government from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which gave Ontario an A- in its 2019 Red Tape Report Card. The high grade was to acknowledge the Ontario government’s push to reduce the amount of red tape and bureaucracy encountered by businesses in the province. Steve Clark had a much more positive comment on this announcement than he had on the Bill 66 turnaround:

“Receiving this grade shows that our government is on the right track to bring prosperity back to every region of Ontario by making this a place where businesses want to invest and grow. That’s great news for job creators in Leeds and Grenville and people who are looking for a good-paying job.”

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