Belt-loos­en­ing: Crit­ics warn bill would open door to de­vel­op­ment on pro­tected land,

Bill 66 al­lows cities to by­pass de­vel­op­ment re­quire­ments for jobs


En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and crit­ics are ac­cus­ing Premier Doug Ford of break­ing a prom­ise to pro­tect the two-mil­lion-acre Green­belt from de­vel­op­ment with changes they say en­dan­ger wildlife and drink­ing wa­ter, set­ting On­tario’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions back 40 years.

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed changes to the plan­ning act will un­der­mine the prov­ince’s an­ti­sprawl smart growth plan, the Green­belt Act, the Great Lakes and Lake Sim­coe Pro­tec­tion acts and the Oak Ridges Mo­raine Con­ser­va­tion Act, said En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fence exec- utive di­rec­tor Tim Gray.

The changes were an­nounced Thurs­day as part of Bill 66, the Restor­ing On­tario’s Com­pet­i­tive­ness Act.

It would al­low mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to ob­tain pro­vin­cial ap­proval to use a new open-for-busi­ness zon­ing by­law that would by­pass some of the ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­ment re­quire­ments. The by­law would only be avail­able if the mu­nic­i­pal­ity could prove a de­vel­op­ment would cre­ate 50 jobs for places with pop­u­la­tions un­der 250,000 or 100 jobs in larger mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Of eight On­tario mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with more than 250,000 peo­ple, five are in the Toronto re­gion.

“The aim is to have all pro­vin­cial ap­provals in place within one year so qual­i­fy­ing busi­nesses can be­gin con­struc­tion,” said an emailed state­ment from a spokesper­son of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and Hous­ing Minister Steve Clark.

Con­di­tions would re­main on the build­ing, ma­te­rial and other de­sign el­e­ments of the em­ploy­ment projects but mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would not be re­quired to pro­vide ad­vance no­tice of the by­law’s adop­tion.

The new tool is the kind of open­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have feared since Doug Ford was caught on video dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign telling de­vel­op­ers he would open up the Green­belt if he be­came premier. He walked back the re­marks af­ter the video was re­leased.

“There is no longer any ra­tio­nal ap­proach to land des­ig­na­tion so all ar­eas that we’ve care­fully con­sid­ered be­ing wor­thy of pro­tec­tion no longer have that pro­tec­tion. Any­one with a prop­erty just has to con­vince Queen’s Park to give them an ex­emp­tion and (that’s) all it (needs) to go for­ward for de­vel­op­ment,” Gray said.

While the bill is driven by job cre­ation, re­tail and res­i­den­tial com­po­nents can be part of the projects which qual­ify for the by­law’s use, he said.

Oakville Mayor Rob Bur­ton said his town’s of­fi­cials were still scram­bling Thurs­day to in­ter­pret the bill, but “on the face of it, it looks like the Green­belt on a case-by-case ba­sis is open for busi­ness.”

The in­tegrity of the Green­belt will, in essence, be in the hands of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties who will have the op­tion of ap­ply­ing for the open-for-busi­ness by­law, he said.

Call­ing it “an in­ter­est­ing rev­er­sal,” Bur­ton said coun­cils that would pre­vi­ously be faced with a de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion that was once clearly pro­hib­ited could now be per­suaded to make an ex­cep­tion and use the by­law to get it.

“I don’t think this premier will be happy un­til he paves par­adise and puts up a park­ing lot,” said the New Demo­crat MPP Catherine Fife (Water­loo).

On­tario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, the MPP for Guelph, ac­cused the prov­ince of break­ing a sa­cred trust.

“The Green­belt is not driv­ing up hous­ing prices or the cost of busi­ness. Only 20 per cent of al­ready avail­able lands for de­vel­op­ment have been used,” he said in a press re­lease. Paving farms and wet­lands will cost the prov­ince bil­lions in flood­ing from the in­creas­ing oc­cur­rence of ex­treme weather, Schreiner said.

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