Ontario will not move forward with a controversial element of proposed legislation that could have opened up the province’s protected Greenbelt to development.
Municipal affairs minister Steve Clark says the government will abandon plans to create a specialized planning tool for municipalities that would have allowed them under some circumstances to override certain laws, including those that safeguard the Greenbelt.
In a message posted on social media Wednesday, Clark says the government has heard from legislators, municipalities and stakeholders who were concerned about the impact the bill could have on the protected lands.
The Progressive Conservative government announced the planning tool as part of Bill 66 in December, saying it hoped the measure would expedite economic development.
Critics have said Bill 66 contains vague language that puts established protections at risk.
The Greenbelt — 7,200-square-kilometre area that borders the Greater Golden Horseshoe area — was established in 2005 to protect environmentally sensitive land from urban development.
Under the portion of the proposed law the government will scrap, municipalities working on a specific project — like attracting a major employer to the region — would have been able to pass a by-law to request provincial approval to override certain regulations.
Municipalities would have had to provide a case to the government to warrant the override.
The government had said that part of the legislation — referred to as Schedule 10 — would only apply to municipal development of industrial land.
“The use of this tool would never be approved at the expense of the Greenbelt or other provincial interests like water quality or public health and safety,” Clark said in a tweet.
“However, our Government for the People has listened to the concerns raised by MPPs, municipalities and stakeholders with regards to Schedule 10 of Bill 66 and when the legislature returns in February, we will not proceed with Schedule 10 of the Bill.”
NDP climate change critic Peter Tabuns said the Ford government’s plan would have allowed the Greenbelt to be “Swiss-cheesed” by developers.
“By working together, concerned people and groups — including municipalities, environmental advocates, agricultural organizations and the Official Opposition — have been successful in holding off Ford’s attack on the Greenbelt,” Tabuns said.
Green party leader Mike Schreiner said the government was forced to back down because of public opposition to its plan.
“People were clear during the election,” he said. “And they have been clear since Bill 66 was introduced: the people of Ontario want to protect the Greenbelt and clean water.”
Association of Municipalities of Ontario Executive Director Pat Vanini said the group is not surprised the government pulled this section of the bill.
“We welcome economic development tools that are well thought-out and focused on specific outcomes,” Vanini said.
Premier Doug Ford generated controversy during the spring election campaign when he initially pledged to open parts of the area to build housing — a promise he backtracked on after facing intense criticism.