Minutes before the Christmas break the Ford provincial government surprised everyone with the release of Bill 66, a sweeping omnibus Bill impacting everything from electronic driver licenses to farm labour regulations. Buried within the Bill are extremely troubling changes to the Municipal Act that would allow any municipality to override the laws that protect our water, agriculture, and natural ares without any public meetings, notice, or consultations under the guise of reducing red tape and creating jobs.
These “Open for Business By-laws” could overrule and completely ignore the Clean Water Act, the Greenbelt Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act, the Growth Plan, and many other essential protections we count on daily for human health and co-ordinated local planning. Bill 66 exemptions totally bypass all upper-tier regional involvement and don’t have to be in conformity with any local Official Plans or regulations. Thus, all the ESL, ESPA, and provincially significant wetland protections around Sunfish Lake and its surrounding watershed could be completely overridden in a process that requires no public meetings, no public communications, no communications to impacted agencies such as the GRCA, and no communications required to impacted area landowners. Worse yet, there is no recourse or ability to appeal a Bill 66 bylaw to the OMB or new LPAT.
It is extremely concerning legislation that would allow far-reaching development decisions to trump critical environmental protections and circumvent planning requirements in closed door meetings by any municipality with no appeal possible. Under the guise of cutting red tape, it could open our farmland, green space and protected areas to for-profit development at the expense of our health, environment and democratic rights. On Tuesday, dozens of community groups successfully got the Region of Waterloo Council to unanimously oppose Bill 66 and we will be visiting all local municipalities to seek similar resolutions opposing Schedule 10 of Bill 66 and committing not to use those provisions should they become law.
The Sunfish Lake Association was instrumental in helping to design and implement so many of the environmental protections we rely on today – be it the ESPA areas in the 1970’s, the Laurel Creek Watershed Study in the 1980’s, the Regional Official Plan in the 1990.s, the Environmentally Sensitive Landscape in the 2000;s, or the Protected Countryside designation in the 2010’s. I think our Lake Association needs to respond strongly to the provincial government before the January 20th EBR deadline.
As well, everyone should personally speak up to defend these protections and tell the provincial government to remove Schedule 10 from Bill 66 to ensure that our water, farms and natural areas aren’t threatened.