We had a lot of examples, since this government was elected, of bills that not only did not go on the road; they didn’t go to committee at all. We saw several bills go straight from second reading to third reading with zero opportunity for public input, zero opportunity for citizens, experts, stakeholders to come even to Queen’s Park, even for an hour, to offer some input on the bill. To its credit, this government decided they were going to travel this bill. But there’s a lot more to being open and consultative than travelling a bill if you’re not going to listen to a word you hear when you are on the road.
My colleague the member for Waterloo shared some of the input that was received as she sat on the Standing Committee on General Government as it received deputations on this bill. Today, as the member for London West, I’m going to focus on the input that was received from the people in London, who actually had an opportunity to speak to the members who were on this committee when the committee travelled to London earlier this month.
The first thing I want to do is just quote some of the things that were said to the committee, because I think that it’s instructive when we contrast the kind of input that people provided to the remarks that we heard from the minister and the parliamentary assistant about how great this bill was going to be for the economy, how it was going to really relieve the red tape burden for citizens, and everything was going to be great.
The first quote I want to share is from Robert Case, who is from Wellington Water Watchers. He appeared before the committee when it was in London. He said, “How pollution penalties can be treated as red tape that needs to be eliminated in the pursuit of growth and prosperity, let alone to make things better for people, is really beyond me. Current penalties are important as an economic deterrent from polluting in the first place so that they also create an economic incentive for dealing with the problem immediately and thoroughly. I don’t think that this particular part of Bill 132 will be seen as progress towards prosperity but rather as a sellout to the most polluting industries interested in Ontario.” That’s one example of some of the input that was received when the committee went on the road.
Another interesting quote was from Richard Lindgren, who’s from the Canadian Environmental Law Association. He noted, “I tend to be a bit bemused by the titles of legislation these days. This one is supposed to be ‘better for the people.’ It may be better for aggregate producers. It’s not necessarily better for the people that I represent....” That was a comment from the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The third comment was an interesting one. This was from the Urban League of London, which is a unique organization in the province. It has been established for more than 50 years and represents the voices of citizens and neighbourhood associations. Shawna Lewkowitz from the Urban League of London pointed out, “We understand that part of the intent of Bill 132 is to reduce red tape and make it easier for decisions and planning to move ahead. Removing this centre”—and here she’s referring to the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre—“does not accomplish this. What it does do is deter certain groups from participating in the process and make it harder for them once they do. This can lead to a longer appeals process and more animosity between municipalities, developers and residents, overall slowing things down and creating greater potential for future conflicts and more appeals.”
Clearly, this bill is failing to achieve what the government claims it is intended to do. In fact, it is actually moving us backwards. It’s taking us from bad to worse, actually, Speaker, in terms of the ability of citizens in this province to challenge development decisions that are made, and also in terms of the ability of developers to override municipal decisions in the case of the Aggregate Resources Act, and polluting businesses to shirk their responsibility under the Environmental Bill of Rights and other environmental protection legislation and look at fines that they might have to pay for polluting, look at it as the cost of doing business. It lets them off the hook, so to speak.
The other points that were made—and I think this government has to really reflect on this. Some serious concerns were raised about process. This is an omnibus bill—17 schedules, 80 acts, and citizens were given virtually no time. We, as legislators, as MPPs, were given very, very limited time to analyze the changes that are set out in this bill and to really thoroughly understand what the impact of those changes will be.
When the Canadian Environmental Law Association appeared before the committee they started out right upfront and said, “In particular, Bill 132 proposes to change 14 different environmental laws. However, only a 30-day public comment period has been provided under the Environment Bill of Rights for all of these significant legislative changes. CELA submits that this fast-track approach is both unacceptable and unwarranted, and that it is inappropriate to bury the proposed changes in a 100-page omnibus bill containing 17 different schedules.”
It’s an insult to the people of this province when this government, all of a sudden, says, “Oh, we want to hear from Ontarians.” They go on the road, hear from Ontarians and ignore everything they hear. But also, they take a bill that is almost impossible for people to provide meaningful input on because it is so packed with such a myriad of changes that affect so many different parts of our economy and the way we live in this province.
A similar process concern was raised by Nature London when they appeared before the committee. Gordon Neish from Nature London began his presentation by saying, “We request that the government of Ontario allocate additional time for public hearings and the acceptance of written submissions—we would suggest at least an additional month—so that stakeholders can analyze this proposed legislation. This could result in the avoidance of unintended consequences resulting from a possible inadequate understanding of how the various aspects of Bill 132 will interact with one another. It will also permit a more in-depth analysis of whether the proposed repeals and revocations are, in fact, eliminating unnecessary red tape, or are instead undermining and weakening protections for our air, land, water, and habitat and species diversity.”
I think that is an excellent point, Speaker. Let’s just think about what happened when the Standing Committee on General Government went through clause-by-clause on this bill. Do you know—and my colleague the member for Waterloo pointed this out—that one of the amendments that the government brought forward—the government—was to repeal schedule 2 of this bill? What kind of analysis did the government do when they were developing schedule 2 of this bill? During the clause-by-clause process, they realized, “Oops, we need to repeal an entire schedule of this bill” that they had worked on in the first place. That’s a perfect example of how packaging legislation like this, bringing together 80 different acts into a single piece of legislation, can cause problems.
We saw that recently in another omnibus bill, in the fall economic statement, this government had to bring in an amendment to Bill 108, which was legislation that it had hastily rushed in earlier, because they hadn’t thought things through. And then they realized with the fall economic statement bill, “Oops. We have to bring in an amendment because we goofed when we brought in the legislation in the first place.”
These are very legitimate process concerns, and I hope this government learns from that. I hope they think twice about bringing forward these very, very thick omnibus bills that really undermine the ability of MPPs, as the voices of the people we represent, to participate in the debate and to bring forward concerns and raise issues. It undermines our ability, but it also undermines the ability of citizens, and surely that is what this place is all about. It’s about making good decisions that enable all the people of this province to live their best lives. If we have processes that are counterproductive to that, then that is not helpful to democracy. It doesn’t serve any of us well when our processes are not enabling a real responsiveness to the needs of the people that we represent.
I want to share, verbatim, several of the comments that were made when the legislative committee appeared in London, because it’s only by me sharing them here in this place that anybody will have any idea of the kind of input that was provided. As I said, this government basically ignored everything that was said to the committee when the committee was in London, and I suspect it was the same in Peterborough. I didn’t have an opportunity to review the input that was received in Peterborough, but I listened to my colleague the member for Waterloo, and I heard her refer to some of the other input that was received from very substantive organizations, organizations that have extensive reach and represent the voices of hundreds and thousands of people in this province—organizations like the Association of Municipalities Ontario, which submitted input and did not, in any way, shape or form, see their input reflected in the amendments that were brought forward to the bill, and the version of the bill that we are debating here today during third reading.
I want to quote some more from Shawna Lewkowitz, who was representing the Urban League of London during the committee hearings. The Urban League of London really focused their comments on two schedules of the bill, schedule 3 and schedule 9. Schedule 3, as I mentioned, is the schedule that eliminates the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre.
Shawna began by talking about the unrealized potential, really, of the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre: “The centre has been in operation for a very short time, having been implemented in 2017,” under the former Liberal government, but she says that from the perspective of the neighbourhood groups who were involved in it—the Urban League of London, the grassroots, citizen-led organizations—the “purpose and potential” of the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre “has only just begun to be realized.”
Then she goes on to say that the ability of residents and neighbourhood groups to participate “in the planning decisions of their communities is vitally important.” She says, “Planning decisions can be contentious, particularly given the complex and sometimes competing needs of developers, municipalities, residents, community groups and business owners. A process to equitably appeal these decisions is important to ensure that the needs of everyone are met and that we get the best planning decision outcomes.”
She goes on to say that planning decisions and planning processes are complex and navigating appeals of those planning decisions can be “challenging and often out of reach for many residents or community groups.”
The Local Planning Appeal Support Centre was set up to address this gap, this imbalance between the developers who have access to lawyers and staff who understand complex planning processes and the small community organizations. It’s the David and Goliath imbalance that we see so often. The Local Planning Appeal Support Centre was designed to help provide the public with support on a wide range of types of applications and appeals under the Planning Act.
She says that with the elimination of the support centre, “many groups will be forced to hire expensive lawyers”—if they can afford them—“which will prevent some from participating, given they lack the necessary funds. It will deter others from participating in the process in the first place, knowing that if a decision goes to an appeal, they lack the expertise and knowledge to navigate the process on their own.”
She also notes that taking away the centre “sends a message to residents that the government is more supportive of developers and those who have the means and the money to be able to pay to navigate what is, we all know, an extremely complex process.” That echoes that comment that I shared earlier that was made by the representative of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, that this is a bill that is not better for people; it’s better for aggregate producers—