Believe it or not, the Official Plan approvals required under the Places to Grow legislation are still working their way through the legal process. The Ontario government’s Amendment 1 to the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan bestowed a bonus of 20,000 added population on Simcoe County but that decision was under appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Those gathered to argue for or against specific provisions included:
- 36 Appellants (mostly developers)
- 18 Parties (mostly municipalities)
- a handful of ‘Participants,’ who lack standing “to cross-examine or call witnesses or be involved in the settlement process.”
A recent press release prepared by the Aware Simcoe Network details how the OMB reached a decision to approve 12,000 of that ‘bonus’ for Simcoe County. This came about through “a compromise worked out over the lunch-hour between the county and lawyers representing municipalities and developers during an OMB pre-hearing held April 15 in the Simcoe County Council chambers.”
Participants complained about being excluded during:
- “Three in-camera meetings of “experts” (planners retained by the developers or municipal planners) who “re-crafted” the Official Plan wording
- Negotiations between the lawyers that resulted in the appellants or parties agreeing to withdraw objections, allowing for board approval of all but four clauses to be dealt with at a full OMB hearing in June.”
The Aware Simcoe representative, Sandy Agnew, protested, “To go out in the hall and have a meeting without including anyone else, this is what we’ve been complaining about all along – back-hall deals, backroom deals …”
OMB panel chair, Sylvia Sutherland, interrupted to reprove Agnew for “intemperate language.” Agnew apologized.”
“Later on April 15, when Anne Ritchie-Nahuis of the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture asked for copies of the various motions the board had received that day, Sutherland questioned participants’ need for that information.
“You know your position,” she told Ritchie-Nahuis. “The exhibits are not critical to what your position is.”
Sutherland had earlier expressed her gratitude to Simcoe County lawyer Roger Beaman for getting cooperation to settle items so the board won’t have to hear them.”
While citizen groups can ask for ‘Party’ status at an OMB hearing, they are reluctant to do so because of the cost of hiring lawyers and planners to support their position. While it’s not required, failure to do so may expose the resident associations, and even their lawyers, to subsequent costly legal suits from developers. (This has already happened in other cases) A developer’s lawyer was able to dismissively say, “They made the choice” not to have Party status.
While terms like ‘participatory democracy’, ‘open government’, ‘accountability’ and ‘transparency’ are the latest buzz words there seems to be precious little of it at the OMB. The result is a two-tiered democracy based on wealth. The gas plant scandal is the result of one of Canada’s wealthiest communities raising the big bucks to pay for lawyers, consultants, celebrities and a media campaign to fight a project they didn’t want. The rest of us are picking up the final tab of up to $500 million dollars. In our own backyard, we’re relegated to observer status. It’s not for us to interrupt the important work of municipal officials, developers, and consultants. Have access to discussions and documents? How impertinent! Call it a back-room deal? How intemperate indeed! A decision on the remaining 40% of the County’s bonus allocation comes before the Board in June.
Aware Simcoe Press Release: County gets go-ahead for 12,000 of ‘bonus’ population