City Staff Have Concerns With Bill 66, and Want City Council to Endorse Them

The Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, the now infamous Bill 66, will be a major point of debate when the Ontario Legislature returns next month. For City of Guelph staff though, the debate is over. They’re not fans.

“In reviewing the legislation, staff do not support the changes to the Planning Act in Schedule 10 as proposed by Bill 66 based on the information currently available and the perceived threat to the City’s water supply” the report reads. “While City staff recognize the merits of an expedited review process for major employment uses, staff have significant concerns regarding the proposed process.”

An omnibus bill, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act affects numerous pieces of legislation including the Labour Relations Act, the Employment Standards Act, the Private Career Colleges Act, the Wireless Services Act, the Toxics Reduction Act, the Pawnbrokers Act, the Agricultural Employees Protection Act, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act, the Farm Registration and Farm Organizations Funding Act, the Ontario Energy Board Act, the Pension Benefits Act, the Technical Standards and Safety Act, the Long-Term Care Homes Act, the Planning Act, the Highway Traffic Act, the Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act, the Greenbelt Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, the Metrolinx Act, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, the Ontario Planning and Development Act, the Places to Grow Act, and the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act.

The staff report, which was delayed until the amended agenda was released yesterday, deals with how many of these changes will negatively impact the City, but of primary concern is the changes to planning processes and public feedback provisions.

One of the proposed changes to the Planning Act, for example, is the “Open for Business” Tool. This provision makes it so that a municipality can receive a planning application, and then take it to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to get approval to use the “Open for Business” Bylaw, which, if approved, will come into effect within 20 days, and cannot be appealed to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

With the “Open for Business” bylaw, municipalities can bypass official plans and zoning, remove bonusing provisions, limit planning-related conditions, stymie public consultation at the municipality’s discretion, and ensure that all decisions are final and are unable to be repealed to the LPAT.

The only condition, it seems, is that this is meant to attract businesses looking to build employment lands, and in municipalities of 250,000 people or less, like Guelph, that means a “minimum job creation threshold” of 50 jobs or more. The doesn’t sound like a lot, but recalling the proposed Xinyi development in Guelph-Eramosa, that plant was supposed to have created 400 jobs, meaning that if Guelph-Eramosa’s township council was so inclined in the future, it could use the “Open for Business” bylaw to approve the plant’s construction.

The staff report notes that it seems that Bill 66’s planning provisions can only be used for the development of major employment lands, but the implications may be far reaching and negative.

“By way of analysis of the Bill, staff agree that Schedule 10 of Bill 66 would create economic hardship for municipalities, would negate thoughtful and long-term vision planning policies, would erode collaborative regional economic efforts (e.g. Innovation Corridor, two-way-all-day GO) and would spur on a ‘race to the bottom’ as neighbouring municipalities seek short-term economic gains that put municipal regions around them at a competitive disadvantage,” says the report.

On public consultation, the report adds that, “the City of Guelph does not support the potential exemption of the planning and development of major employment uses from any public process prior to a decision being made.”

The staff report also discusses concerns with other changes being made by Bill 66.

Repeal of the Pawnbrokers Act – Staff expressed concern that law enforcement might lose ground in enforcing theft, and being prevented from being able to search for and return stolen goods.

Child Care and Early Years Act and Education Act – Childcare is technically administered by the County of Wellington, but the City of Guelph provides $3.5 million worth of funding. There’s going to be a financial impact from Bill 66’s changes to the number of children allowed to a caregiver, and by starting programs at four years old instead of six, but no one’s sure yet what that impact will be.

Ontario Energy Board Act – Bill 66 deletes references to “unit sub-metering” and replaces it with “smart meters.” The problem here, according to the staff report, is that there are studies that show a lack of individual meters can raise energy prices by 30 per cent when smart meters are installed in certain residences, and it’s not yet known what impact on secondary suites there will be with the change.

Long-Term Care Homes Act – The Elliott Community is preparing its own review of the legislation.

Labour Relations Act and Employment Standards Act – The changes proposed in Bill 66 would allow municipal governments to no longer be designated as “construction employers”, which means that the number of available contractors for municipal construction jobs won’t be as restrictive. It’s believed that this move will allow municipalities to find more efficiencies, but City staff say that they need more time to consider the ramifications of these changes.

The City is looking to submit their feedback on Bill 66 by the January 20 deadline, and they’re recommending that the Committee tell the Province that the City is willing to consult further on the development of the legislation.

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