Region of Waterloo won't support Bill 66, votes to send message to province

Regional councillors voted in favour of sending a message to the province saying they don't support Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act.

Bill 66 is a 'Pandora's box,' Hold the Line's Kevin Thomason says

Region of Waterloo councillors say they don't support the province's Bill 66 and will forward a staff report explaining why to the province. That decision was made at the planning and works committee Tuesday morning and needs to be ratified at regional council on Jan. 16. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Regional councillors do not support planning changes proposed under Bill 66 and will be sending that message to the province about it.

During the planning and works committee meeting on Tuesday morning, councillors voted on a staff recommendation to tell the province the region does not support proposed amendments to the Planning Act as set out in Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act, because "it fails to adequately protect human health and safety and in particular the safety of the Region of Waterloo's drinking water resources."

Critics of the provincial bill have argued it would allow lower tier municipalities to make planning decisions, like allowing development on protected lands, without consulting with the region. They worry it's a risk to farmland and groundwater resources.

Kevin Thomason of the group Hold the Line appeared before councillors and said he questions the need for Bill 66 and "the Pandora's box it opens up."

He said this is an issue that has concerned more than just environmental groups — health and student groups have also expressed their opposition to it, he said.

"Everyone across the province is questioning why this bill is even coming forward," he said.

Important to protect farmland, groundwater

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz said it's important to protect farmland and groundwater in the region.

"We want to have healthy and vibrant communities. So, for all of these reasons, it's really important that we protect what we have," Shantz said.

She says she trusts council now, but if they had a "rogue council" in the future, they could allow a chemical plant on a waterway, so fighting this is necessary.

Committee chair Tom Galloway echoed those comments, saying he's concerned decisions made by neighbouring municipalities could impact the region. He said it can be tempting for a municipality to allow industry or development when they see how much they could get back from property taxes.

"'Open for Business' is a nice little catchy phrase. It seems quite harmless," he said, adding being open for business is not a bad thing, but, "Not by these means."

The vote to not support the proposed amendments to the Planning Act as well as send the staff report to the province passed unanimously.

'Tremendous level of activity'

Thomason says he's pleased by the decision from councillors, but now, he says the province needs to listen to the municipalities.

"We're seeing a tremendous level of activity across the province," he said, saying they have seen similar motions in York region, Guelph as well as Burlington, and he hopes more municipalities speak out.

"We're seeing citizens — literally thousands, even tens of thousands of citizens — sending letters, sending comments, trying to reach out to the government," he said. "We're certainly trying."

The decision by committee still needs to be ratified by regional council. It will go before council Jan. 16.