Kitchener-Waterloo

Local groups call on Waterloo region councils to reject open for business bill

A coalition of groups in Waterloo region are calling on local governments to reject the Ontario government’s proposed Bill 66.

Regional staff working on response to province's proposed Bill 66

Local organizations are concerned about the impact Bill 66 could have on farmland, water protection and the environment in Waterloo region. (Allan Weeks Real Estate Co.)

A coalition of groups in Waterloo region are calling on local governments to reject the Ontario government's proposed Bill 66.

The omnibus bill, also known as the Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act, aims to spur job-creating businesses and industries to build, expand and hire.

If passed in February, municipalities could apply to the Minister of Municipal Affairs to be exempt from a list of laws, including the Great Lakes Protection Act, the Clean Water Act and the Greenbelt Act.

That's something Hold the Line, Smart Growth Waterloo Region and the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture aren't happy about.

"It allows exemptions to so many of the acts and regulations that we count on across the province," says Kevin Thomason of Smart Growth Waterloo Region.

Legislation could hurt agriculture

Under section 10 of the bill, municipalities could apply to create an "open-for-business" planning bylaw.

The bylaw would in part allow municipalities to permit land use without having to adhere to existing local requirements, allow public consultation at the discretion of the municipality and remove the requirement for a decision to adhere to provincial policies and plans.

It allows exemptions to so many of the acts and regulations that we count on across the province.- Kevin Thomason, Smart Growth Waterloo Region

Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Waterloo Federation of Agriculture, has mixed feelings about the legislation.

He says while some parts of the bill relating to labour could be beneficial, section 10 could have a negative impact on agriculture.

"My concern as a farmer is the opportunity for some municipalities to utilize the tools in Bill 66 to sprawl on to farmland," he says.

"Only five per cent of Ontario's land mass is available for agriculture and all of it needs to be protected."

Region to give feedback to province

Municipalities and mayors across Ontario have spoken out against Bill 66 since it was introduced. Thomason says he wants to see similar declarations or resolutions from the municipalities in Waterloo region.

Regional councillor Tom Galloway has asked for a staff report on the bill at the planning and works committee meeting in January.

He says one issue that's particularly important for the region is groundwater source protection.

"We rely 85 per cent on groundwater in our community and the reason why we have such strong environmental policies ... is to protect that resource, in addition to protecting farmland," Galloway says.

Galloway says he's also concerned that municipalities could make planning decisions without approval from regional government and without holding public consultations.

Regional councillor Tom Galloway has asked staff to prepare a report on Bill 66 for the next planning and works committee meeting in January. (Dan Sherman/CBC)

Ministry says it will protect Greenbelt

The province has set a deadline of Jan. 20 for feedback on Bill 66. Galloway says staff are preparing a response from the region, which will be looked at by council.

In a statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says the government has been clear that it will protect the Greenbelt.

"Our ministry would work with partner ministries ... to consider potential impacts on matters of provincial interest, including the protection and enhancement of the Greenbelt," the statement reads.

The ministry adds that jobs and investments generated through Bill 66 would contribute to Ontario's economic growth and competitiveness.

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