Not all red tape is created equal. Some is frustratingly bureaucratic and seems to serve no purpose save being frustratingly bureaucratic.
There is other red tape though that does serve a purpose. Take Ontario’s Clean Water Act, for instance. It was enacted in 2006 to protect drinking water sources. Why? Because insufficient oversight resulted in the Walkerton Tragedy, in which water contaminated with E. coli from surface runoff sickened some 2,000 people and killed six of them.
Premier Doug Ford, like many a populist before him, hates red tape. There’s nothing new in the premier’s reasoning for his hatred. Red tape is making Ontario uncompetitive. Onerous government legislation is making Ontario closed for business.
But it seems that for the premier and his Tories, the simplest solution to red tape isn’t to repeal legislation (which would take years), but to build some big scissors and let municipalities cut the red tape themselves.
The proposed set of scissors is Bill 66, also known by the so-on-the-nose moniker Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. The bill would hand municipalities an awfully big, awfully sharp set of scissors. The bill has not been passed by the Ontario legislature.
In effect, it would allow municipalities to pass a so-called Open-for-Business Bylaw, which the municipality could then use (with prior provincial approval) to allow major industrial developments to ignore certain pieces of provincial legislation in order to fast-track a project and get all necessary approvals within a year.
What kind of legislation could be ignored? With the provincial OK, how about the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario, or the Clean Water Act, to name just two. Plus, taxpayers wouldn’t be able to appeal projects approved under Open-for-Business Bylaws to Local Planning Appeals Tribunals either. No appeals from the public allowed.
I don’t think I need to tell any resident of Greater Sudbury — well, at least those north of a certain age — what unchecked industrial development does to a community. If you are too young to remember the Nickel City that was, head to Google and search historical photos.
Without environmental regulations, human empathy or good common sense, mining firms treated the Sudbury basin as a dumping ground for all manner of the foul and the fetid, the noxious and the nauseating. The city was a barren expanse of black rock, scoured filthy by runoff, particulate matter and acid rain.
Another Sudbury couldn’t happen in Ontario because we, as voters and taxpayers, forced the enactment of legislation to protect the planet and protect people, to prevent companies from running roughshod over our communities.
Yes, those protections slow development (in Ontario, in B.C., in the U.S., in Europe etc. etc., in other words, in most industrialized countries, rendering the competitiveness argument somewhat moot). Yes, they make development more expensive.
But in exchange, we have air that’s protected from pollution, soil that’s protected from contamination, water that’s protected from poison. We have forests that aren’t clear-cut to extinction, habitats where animals can thrive, and mines that have to be reclaimed once they’re exhausted.
As frustrating as some red tape can be for you and me as individual taxpayers and small- to medium-sized business owners, I don’t think any of us would want large industrial developments to operate practically unchecked. The risk for abuse is just too great. We in Sudbury have lived in that world and I’m sure none of us want to go back there.
Of course, there are those with enough knowledge of provincial regulations to use (or misuse, depending on your point of view) protective legislative mechanisms to delay developments for years, in some cases indefinitely, if they don’t like a project or just disagree with it. And while that can be problematic, that’s the double-edged sword of a public appeals process. Sometimes an appeal is the absolute correct thing, and sometimes it’s frivolous.
A better mechanism for minimizing what some would call misuse of the system was supposed to be the Local Planning Appeals Tribunals, which replaced the Ontario Municipal Board. The LPATs were supposed to streamline the process, minimize misuse and just generally move things along at a faster rate than the OMB. But if passed, Bill 66 would shield certain major industrial projects from LPAT appeals.
Guelph has already denounced Bill 66. Kitchener residents have already protested it. Bradford is worried. Waterloo region has said no way.
Greater Sudbury staff have told council in a report that Bill 66 puts projects and economic concerns ahead of people in the environment, flies in the face of the city’s Official Plan and falls outside the spirit of community engagement and public consultation.
Let’s hope city council is listening.
Mark Gentili is the editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.