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LETTER: Bill 23 is harmful, anti-democratic, group warns

'Community members ... will no longer be able to participate in or challenge decisions that affect their own neighbourhoods,' warns letter writer
2021-02-25 Ontario Greenbelt
Map showing Ontario's Greenbelt.

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The Ford administration’s Bill 23 has been raising a lot of concern amongst nature groups and environmentalists and rightly so — this is an omnibus bill that weakens environmental protections that have been long established in Ontario.

Mr. Ford has also announced his government will intrude into the Greenbelt, all in the name of building more homes, faster. It’s really a red herring, to claim that reduction of natural safeguards and removal of hard-won Greenbelt protections are needed to alleviate the growing housing shortage. The Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force has concluded that there is sufficient available land to meet housing needs without disruptions to the Greenbelt.

But even if you don’t care about nature there is much to be alarmed about with this sweeping legislation. First is the breakneck speed with which it’s being rushed through the legislature. If it was sound legislation, with broad support, surely Mr. Ford would follow due process, allow considered debate and not try to rush it through.

But if that isn’t concerning enough, it gets worse. Bill 23 changes the Planning Act, removing requirements to notify the public about development plans as well as the public’s right to appeal planning decisions enacted by local municipalities.

Community members will be deliberately kept in the dark and will no longer be able to participate in or challenge decisions that affect their own neighbourhoods, local farmlands and natural spaces. Put another way, if Mr. Ford thinks a multi-storey apartment tower or perhaps a quarry is a suitable addition to your community, you will have no options available to challenge his decision.

This bill gives the minister virtually unquestionable power to amend municipal Official Plans and impose development even though the community and local government have decided it’s inappropriate. It even removes Simcoe County’s planning powers, making region-wide land-use decisions impossible.

Bill 23 will gut conservation authorities. Permits, formerly issued by conservation authorities with regard to water taking, interference with rivers and water courses, erosion control and wetland protection will no longer be required under the bill.

Conservation authorities will no longer be able to enter agreements with municipalities to review planning proposals and, in effect, will be prevented from supplying environmental and natural heritage information to them. Many smaller municipalities don’t possess the ability to assess environmental impacts themselves and rely heavily on conservation authorities to perform this function. This further erodes local communities’ ability to make environmentally sound decisions that protect their constituents.

Surely Mr. Ford ranks as one of, or perhaps, the most anti-democratic premier in Ontario’s history. His recent, heavy-handed treatment of education workers and use of the Canadian Constitution’s notwithstanding clause is a prime example. It can only be seen as bullying.

Since his first election there has been a pattern of government striving to weaken or even quash citizens’ rights to meaningfully participate in or object to decisions that will have long-lasting and potentially undesirable outcomes. The widespread use of minister’s zoning orders was only the opening act. This is minister’s zoning orders on steroids.

Many are encouraging people to contact their MPP with their concerns. I think that’s a start. I honestly believe that many locally elected officials don’t support this legislation. But party politics being what it is in this country, standing up to the premier would be political suicide.

Those who value local democracy and community involvement should contact Premier Ford directly: premier@ontario.ca, 416-325-1941.

Robert Codd
President, Midland-Penetanguishene Field Naturalists

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