Bruce County sends letter to province regarding lack of consultation on Bill 23

BRUCE COUNTY – County council is sending a letter to the province, local MPPs and the county’s member municipalities regarding the lack of consultation on Bill 23.

On Oct. 25, the province’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, Steve Clark, introduced omnibus Bill 23, called the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 (Bill 23). The commenting period had an initial deadline of Nov. 24; on Nov. 23, that was extended to Dec. 9. However, the province passed the legislation on Nov. 28.

The commenting period took place during the transition between council terms, meaning there was no opportunity for staff to bring comments on Bill 23 to council for endorsement prior to passing of the bill.

At the Dec. 15 planning and development committee meeting, committee members asked staff to prepare a letter to send to the province expressing council’s concerns about the lack of meaningful consultation on Bill 23.

The letter, addressed to the municipal affairs and housing minister, was discussed during the Jan. 26 planning and development committee meeting, and will be forwarded as per the staff recommendation.

The letter states, in part, that “Bruce County strongly objects to the province proposing Bill 23 during the council transition period” following the Oct. 24, 2022 election. The letter goes on to say that the province’s actions negatively impact its relationship with municipalities “at a time where partnership between multiple levels of government is critical to address affordable housing across Ontario… We are disappointed by the approach taken by the province. The proposed changes are many, far-reaching, and some contradict other recent changes that are in process of being implemented by municipalities. These rapid changes pull staff time away from their tangible work of addressing affordable housing locally to reconstruct the planning framework and fill service gaps created by the province, such as removing conservation authorities from natural heritage review.”

The letter concludes by requesting that “when legislative change is introduced by the province, it is with a reasonable review period and commitment to respecting the communicated consultation timeframes prior to passing legislation.”

The overall tone of the letter is positive, focusing on the need for affordable housing locally.

“It’s a great letter,” commented County Coun. Luke Charbonneau (Saugeen Shores). He expressed his appreciation to staff for putting it together.

The letter, with a few minor revisions, will now be forwarded as recommended.

The committee also discussed comments on the Provincial Policy Statement 2020 and Places to Grow review, which will be circulated to clerks and CAOs to share with their local councils.

Along with Bill 23, the province is undertaking a housing-focused policy review. The staff report presented to the committee stated that the ministry of municipal affairs and housing “was seeking input on how to create a streamlined provincewide land use planning policy framework that enables municipalities to approve housing faster and increase housing supply.”

At present, the Places to Grow growth plan does not apply to Bruce County – it is for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area.

The letter stating Bruce County’s comments runs a dozen pages and is quite detailed.

Charbonneau echoed his earlier statements, thanking staff for their efforts.

“A lot of work went into this in a short period of time,” he said.

County Coun. Kenneth Craig (Kincardine) expressed concern about the increasing demands put on the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s limited resources regarding planning applications. He suggested those concerns be outlined in a letter to the province.

An additional information item discussed by the committee was the changing role of conservation authorities (CAs) in planning. CAs are now limited to commenting on natural hazards and source water protection, for planning applications within their jurisdiction. They cannot review natural heritage and water resources (other than source protection).

However, the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement, as well as county and local Official Plans, require a natural heritage review to be completed.

An information report presented to the committee stated, “This creates a major service gap for municipalities and the county. Neither local municipalities, nor the county planning division, has the internal capacity or expertise at the current time to provide natural heritage and review with in-house resources.” The county has secured the services of a consulting firm, North-South Environmental Inc.

Discussion involved the financial impact this will have on the county.

Charbonneau said he’d “much rather see applicants cover the costs than taxpayers.”

He and County Coun. Don Murray (Huron-Kinloss) spoke of the need for Saugeen Conservation to adjust the levy to reflect the fact they’re no longer providing the service.

Warden Chris Peabody agreed, speaking of “the need to evaluate this.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times