Environmental advocates warn against Ontario’s proposed Bill 66

ontario-parliament Photo by Lester Balajadia/Shutterstock

The government of Ontario has been taking a lot of heat over its proposed new legislation, Bill 66, which passed first reading on December 6 before the legislature packed up until February 19.

Bill 66, a.k.a. Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, is supposed to cut through red tape and allow municipalities to get job-creating projects moving. But the sort of tape the Ford government wants to cut is raising alarms among environmentalists and even some municipal politicians, including the mayor of Barrie, Jeff Lehman, who says while measures to speed up development approvals would be welcome, Bill 66 goes “way, way, way too far.”

The mayor of Guelph, Cam Guthrie, also came out against any job-creating initiative that threatened drinking water or bypassed public consultation.

The bill spells out a slew of amendments to current acts and regulations, as well as the complete repeal of the Toxic Reductions Act. The greatest concern has cropped up around the bill’s amendment of the Planning Act, which would allow municipalities to pass “open-for-business” planning by-laws that circumvent environmental regulations if commercial developments meet job-creating criteria. Projects would have to create 50 new jobs in areas with less than 250,000 people, or 100 jobs in bigger places.

Front and centre in public debate has been the bill’s provision that development could stickhandle past the Clean Water Act, which was passed in response to the Walkerton tragedy of 2000, when E. coli in the municipal water system of Walkerton, Ont., killed seven people and sickened thousands.

Other acts that the bill would allow development to avoid provisions of include the Great Lakes Protection Act, Lake Simcoe Protection Act, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, and the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act. The Canadian Environmental Law Association has called Bill 66 “highly alarming,” and says it “constitutes the biggest and most significant environmental rollback to occur in a generation in Ontario.”

Public comments are open on the bill at the Environmental Registry of Ontario until January 20. To comment, visit this website.

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