‘Open for busi­ness’ — at what cost?

Cut­ting red tape sounds harm­less. But Ford gov­ern­ment’s om­nibus bill will scrap rules put in place to pro­tect chil­dren, work­ers rights and the Green­belt, all in the name of ‘com­pet­i­tive­ness’

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Ed­ward Keenan

Pretty much ev­ery­one hates “red tape.” The prob­lem is, we don’t all agree on what it is.

I mean, to me, the phrase calls to mind lay­ers of use­less pa­per­work that must be filled out in trip­li­cate and filed in per­son to 27 dif­fer­ent de­part­ments. Point­less ad­min­is­tra­tive has­sle. Who isn’t in favour of elim­i­nat­ing that?

But when leg­is­la­tion comes for­ward promis­ing to slash red tape, it of­ten looks like it’s tak­ing aim at some­thing else. In the case of Bill 66, the “Restor­ing On­tario’s Com­pet­i­tive­ness Act” in­tro­duced by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment just be­fore it broke for the rest of the year, it strips away reg­u­la­tions that are meant to pro­tect us and our en­vi­ron­ment, and in some cases to save lives.

The om­nibus bill qui­etly plans to amend dozens of pieces of ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion af­fect­ing 12 dif­fer­ent min- istries, all to “cut red tape that’s stand­ing in the way” of “mak­ing On­tario com­pet­i­tive again.” Sounds harm­less enough. Un­til you read about what is ac­tu­ally be­ing cut: labour reg­u­la­tion, child pro­tec­tion, clean wa­ter safe­guards, even the green­belt leg­is­la­tion the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives promised on the cam­paign trail they would pro­tect “in its en­tirety.”

Look­ing closer, that all doesn’t sound so harm­less.

Some ar­eas jump out as par­tic­u­larly need­ing more thought:

Child-care pro­tec­tions

Bill 66 changes the num­ber of ba­bies — chil­dren un­der the age of 2 — that can be cared for by a sin­gle adult in an un­li­censed home-based day­care from two to three.

The ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tion came into ef­fect in 2015, af­ter chil­dren died in un­li­censed day­cares.

Re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers to more day­care spots is a wor­thy goal, but not if it sac­ri­fices the safety of small chil­dren. En­vi­ron­men­tal and plan­ning pro­tec­tions The bill would al­low mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pass by­laws un­der the Ford gov­ern­ment’s beloved “Open For Busi­ness” slo­gan (lit­er­ally, they would be called “open for busi­ness plan­ning by­laws”) that would ex­empt de­vel­op­ers of com­mer­cial or in­dus­trial uses such as fac­to­ries from a whole slew of reg­u­la­tions.

Among them are those con­tained in the Green­belt Act and the Places to Grow Act, the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion anti-sprawl leg­is­la­tion that Ford fa­mously promised not to touch dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign.

An­other set of rules it could ex­empt de­vel­op­ers from are those that pro­tect the Great Lakes and other sources of drink­ing wa­ter, in­clud­ing the Clean Wa­ter Act, which was brought into force af­ter the Walk­er­ton tragedy that killed seven peo­ple and sick­ened thou­sands of oth­ers through con­tam­i­nated drink­ing wa­ter.

The bill also re­peals the Tox­ics Re­duc­tion Act meant to re­duce pol­lu­tion by pre­vent­ing in­dus­trial uses of cer­tain toxic chem­i­cals.

And it al­lows mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties pass­ing such by­laws to skip the nor­mal pro­cesses of pro­vid­ing pub­lic no­tice and hold­ing hear­ings be­fore ex­empt­ing de­vel­op­ers from all these laws. Labour pro­tec­tions Among other changes weak­en­ing em­ployee pro­tec­tions, this bill would ex­empt mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, hospi­tals, univer­si­ties and other big pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions from rules re­quir­ing them to use union­ized con­trac­tors for in­fra­struc­ture projects.

If the gov­ern­ment wants to de­bate the mer­its of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, it can do so, but it shouldn’t sneak big changes to worker pro­tec­tions through on the mis­lead­ing premise that it is just clear­ing away red tape.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment claims to be do­ing all of this to help cre­ate jobs, which is an­other goal we all like in the­ory. But in pur­suit of that goal, we can’t just throw out the rules meant to pro­tect hu­man lives and the en­vi­ron­ment that sus­tains us.

This bill, con­trary to its claims, isn’t just ad­dress­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive runarounds and costly pa­per­work.

It is elim­i­nat­ing or ex­empt­ing com­pa­nies from rules that were put in place to save lives — in many cases, af­ter the real threat to hu­man life was made trag­i­cally clear.

Our chil­dren, our drink­ing wa­ter, our labour pro­tec­tions, our en­vi­ron­ment — these things are too im­por­tant to be waved away in an om­nibus over­haul of reg­u­la­tions. When the leg­is­la­ture comes back in Fe­bru­ary, this bill re­quires much de­bate and re­vi­sion. Cut the red tape, sure. But don’t cut our safety.

LU­CAS OLENIUK TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Bill 66 would ex­empt de­vel­op­ers from cer­tain reg­u­la­tions de­signed to pro­tect the Green­belt, which Premier Doug Ford vowed to pro­tect “in its en­tirety.”

RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

The leg­is­la­tion loosens rules for un­li­censed home-based day­cares, put in place af­ter chil­dren died.

JULIE JOCSAK THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD FILE PHOTO

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can by­pass de­vel­op­ment re­stric­tions by us­ing “open for busi­ness plan­ning by­laws.”

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