In response to the Ontario Government’s proposed Bill 66, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), which represented the Concerned Walkerton Citizens at the Walkerton Inquiry, has released a detailed legal analysis.
CELA’s analysis focused on drinking water safety and human health and called upon the government to withdraw key portions of Bill 66 in order to safeguard the public interest.
“In our view, this Bill cannot be acceptable to the people of Ontario, given the lessons we all learned from the Walkerton tragedy and the ensuing Inquiry” said Theresa McClenaghan, CELA executive director and counsel. “We learned that we can never take drinking water safety for granted, and that stringent, clear, unambiguous protections are necessary to ensure that we don’t ever have a repeat of the terrible events that unfolded in Walkerton in May 2000.”
If enacted, Schedule 10 of Bill 66 will amend the Planning Act to enable municipalities to pass “open-for-business planning by-laws” aimed at facilitating new major development in order to create employment. CELA called it alarming that Schedule 10 also provides that section 39 of the Clean Water Act, 2006 (CWA) does not apply to an open-for-business planning by-law. Section 39 requires provincial and municipal decisions to conform to policies in CWA-approved source protection plans that address significant drinking water threats.
In a briefing note on Bill 66, CELA concluded that “there is no legal justification or compelling public policy rationale for allowing open-for-business planning by-laws to circumvent or override significant threat policies in source protection plans approved under the CWA.”
“Schedule 10 of Bill 66 is an unwarranted and potentially risky proposal,” said CELA lawyer Richard Lindgren. “The Schedule’s attempt to bypass significant threat policies in approved source protection plans across Ontario is contrary to key recommendations from the Walkerton Inquiry.”
Schedule 10’s exclusion of section 39 of the CWA means that these by-laws can approve development in vulnerable areas that may threaten surface water and groundwater used by municipal drinking water systems, which serve 80 per cent of Ontarians.
“’Open for business’ should not mean slamming the door on CWA plans and best practices that ensure the safety of drinking water,” said CELA Board member Bruce Davidson, who served as the Chair of Concerned Walkerton Citizens during the Walkerton Inquiry. “Bill 66 fails to recognize that source protection committees, comprised of local stakeholders and technical experts, have developed plans that protect drinking water sources and allow communities to thrive economically.”