Ontario Backtracks on Bill 66: Contentious Content Affecting Environment, Heritage to be Deleted from Second Reading

Ontario Legislative Building, Queen's Park / Photo: Daniel Vorndran

Thursday, January 31, 2019

BILL 66 AND ALL THAT

OHA+M BLOG (Ontario Heritage Act and More), By Dan Schneider

I have been putting off writing about Bill 66, the proposed Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act.[1]

As OHA+M is a blog on heritage policy, it seemed impossible to ignore a major legislative foray by the new provincial government that could have major implications for Ontario’s cultural heritage protection regime and the resources it is designed to protect. The bill was introduced last December 6, the final day of the fall session.

I heard mention of the bill a week later but, what with Christmas and all, it didn’t really catch my attention until earlier this month.

Still, I dithered. It was so head-scratchingly odd. I’m talking of course about Schedule 10 of the omnibus bill, the one that would give local municipalities powers to pass an “open-for-business planning by-law”, a new kind of spot zoning measure under the Planning Act, supposedly to cut all the red tape impeding large development projects.[2]

I should say that it would have given municipalities these powers because, as you would have heard, that part of the bill has been dropped! Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark announced the climb-down last Wednesday on Twitter. When the Legislature resumes sitting next month (on February 19, during Heritage Week) and the bill comes up for Second Reading and goes to committee, Schedule 10 will be removed.

So I somehow feel vindicated for holding off on a serious dissection of “open-for-business planning by-laws.” Not to say relieved that Ontarians won’t have to deal with them. If we ever would have.

They were such a bad idea that it was hard to imagine a municipality, even with the government’s blessing, passing one. Yes, I know, municipalities have been known to do crazy things…but still. I guess the risk was that once one impetuous local council took the plunge, others would be tempted to follow?

Which still leaves the bigger questions: Where did the idea come from? Why did the government back off?

I have no idea about the former, so let’s look at the latter.

Interesting that the government’s change of heart came just three days after the last day to submit comments on the bill and the Planning Act measure on the Environmental Registry[3]. Coincidence?

Certainly over the last weeks there was a crescendo of criticism of the bill, and Schedule 10 in particular. Environmental groups especially were in high dudgeon. Sierra Club Ontario, Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), among many others, railed against the bill and the deregulation agenda behind it.[4]

Heritage organizations also piled on, if less vociferously: The Ontario Archaeological Society, Architectural Conservancy Ontario (ACO), and Community Heritage Ontario all rallied supporters to oppose the bill and the potential consequences of Open For Business (OFB) planning by-laws for the protection of cultural heritage.[5]

No doubt all the hubbub got noticed at Queen’s Park, but what may also have weighed heavily in the government’s decision to back off is that municipalities, for whose use the proposed new planning tool (one is tempted to say monkey wrench) was intended, seemed, well, lukewarm and even nonplussed by the prospect. With some going so far as to pass resolutions against it. On hearing that the proposal was being pulled from the bill, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario was “not surprised” — nor disappointed apparently. This is not to say that improvements to Ontario’s planning rules and procedures may not be needed. As noted in ACO’s submission on the bill: “The government should look at other ways to streamline and expedite planning processes through discussion and consultation with all affected interests.”

This could be a textbook case on policy-making; that is, on how not to make public policy. Had the government spent a little more time truly consulting on the problem — rather than rushing to an ideological, red-tape-cutting, so-called solution — this fiasco could have been avoided. Not to mention calls-to-arms and head scratching.

At least they listened. This time.

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Note 1: The bill is here.

Note 2: More specifically, Schedule 10 of the bill would have amended the Planning Act by adding a new section 34.1 that:

    • empowered local municipalities to request provincial approval to pass “open-for-business planning by-laws” aimed at attracting major new development in order to create employment;

    • excluded these by-laws from Planning Act requirements regarding public notice, comment and appeal; and

    • exempted these by-laws from environmental protections and land use controls established under many other provincial laws, plans and policies.

Note 3: Although the comment period has expired the Environmental Registry postings can still be found here: https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4293 (Bill 66) and https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-4125 (Proposed open-for-business planning tool).

If you submitted comments, you would have received the following message:

“Your comment on [Bill 66 or Proposed open-for-business planning tool] has been approved for publishing. Others will be able to read it online when the decision for this proposal is posted.”

Note 4: CELA’s critique can be found here.

Note 5: Here are some excerpts from ACO’s submission:

"If the current land use planning process needs improvement, ACO believes the solution is not to provide a means to circumvent long-established and widely-accepted planning rules. These are not “planning barriers” but the essential pieces of a policy-based planning system that respects and safeguards a great range of societal and community benefits. To ignore them not only endangers the public interest in these resources but also opens the door to major conflict and controversy in our communities. …

We believe that OFB planning by-laws could pose serious risks to our heritage buildings and other cultural heritage resources. By exempting land use proposals from cultural heritage policies in the PPS, provincial plans and municipal Official Plans they would effectively eliminate requirements for heritage impact assessments, archaeological assessments and other measures designed to ensure that conservation of heritage resources is considered in planning decisions. Even protected heritage properties designated under the Ontario Heritage Act could be made vulnerable since a municipality that resorts to an OFBP by-law for the property may be encouraged to approve any proposed demolition."

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OHA+M is an award-winning blog about the Ontario Heritage Act, heritage policy in Ontario and related topics. All posts copyright © Dan Schneider.

 

Related Reading:

Ontario Reverses Course on Bill That Could Have Opened Greenbelt for Development / The Globe and Mail, January 23, 2019

"We Heard you Loud and Clear on Bill 66" / Toronto Star, January 28, 2019