Monday, April 22, 2024

Reader Shares Thoughts on Development Process


A recent opinion editorial on planning and development (Growth Can be Painful, But it Helps to Understand the Process, March 7, 2024) was amusing, for the wrong reasons. The editorial describes a democratic process of municipal development wherein the process begins with a review of the proposal by the planning department, a public planning meeting to learn of public concerns, with further review followed by a report to Council and a vote to accept or reject the proposed development.

Obviously, Meaford residents would not object to developments that blend in and benefit our community. If the process was truly democratic, then public input would occur immediately before the report to Council. This would provide a consideration of changes to the proposal. Democracy is also subverted when Council discussions are done in closed session. As well, there is an underlying assumption that Municipal salaries are paid to act in the public interest.

It is interesting to flip to the Rumour section of the newspaper to read that the Municipality is searching for a new CAO at an annual salary between $150,000 – $182,000. Hopefully, the qualifications for a new CAO do not include a diploma from the Doug Ford School of Ethics.

The fact is that public planning meetings have become a public farce. The Ford government has created a Land Tribunal that can overrule every Official Plan and Zoning By-law in the Province of Ontario. Referral to the Tribunal is almost guaranteed to produce a decision in favour of the developer. The Tribunal can also be manipulated by local neglect to make a decision. Also, by media releases that prejudge the decision.

Tribunal proceedings are supported by a cohort of planning agents paid by the developers to provide second opinions that can be less valid than their first opinions. Also available are Ministry Zoning Orders. These allow developers to proceed directly into quashing local Zoning By-Laws. There has been a surge of MZOs under the Ford government.

Given the provincial machinery to overrule Official Plans and By-laws, it is paradoxical that the editorial concludes with the suggestion that Official Plans are the best defence against dubious developments. What’s really needed are skilled planning agents willing to promote the unofficial concerns raised by citizens. As the editorial notes, change is not easy but change is also not needed when a proposed development is well-designed, blends in and is a benefit to the community. When dealing with a Land Tribunal, a major change is needed. It requires less emphasis on Official Plans and a narrow focus on concerns that are less easy to be dismissed by the Tribunal.

Until such change is available, both the Provincial Auditor and the Ethics Commissioner are to be commended for protecting the Ontario public by exposing the duplicity involved in Greenbelt development, much less floodplain development. Hopefully, the Ontario Ombudsman will also step up to the plate to counter the seepage of provincial ethics into county and municipal governments.

To put things into broad perspective, Land Tribunals and the suppression of local decisions are only part of a provincial policy to replace public institutions with for-profit interests. The policy favours a for-profit few at the expense of the public. Witness the following: expensive housing; escalating cost of rental accommodation; families relying on food banks; low standards on climate change; loading the cost of providing infrastructure for developers onto municipal taxpayers; appointing mayors who can dismiss the decisions of a democratically elected Council; promoting provincial highways where the adjoining farmland has been pre-purchased by developer friends; consigning elderly people to substandard for-profit nursing homes; enacting legislation to prevent lawsuits on substandard care; hospital hallway medicine and ER backups; replacing healthcare with for-profit wealthcare; having Bill 123 limiting wages ruled by the courts as unconstitutional; reacting to the court decisions by appointing a committee to select politically-aligned court judges; and the beat goes on.

Think of the possibilities that Meaford could become if the charm of the Heritage and Waterfront Districts were promoted and not exploited by made-in-Toronto decisions. Think also of the for-profit costs and consequences to the public as the for-profit process is gradually creeping forward. Every. Single. Day.

Jim Molineux, Meaford

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