Enviro-law groups warn Ontario’s Bill 66 puts business before source water protection

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Some members of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) recall that red tape reduction was culprit number one when it came time to find blame for deaths and illnesses related to the 2000 tainted drinking water tragedy in Walkerton, Ontario. Now, as Ontario pushes forward with new legislation aimed at red tape reduction in the name of boosting business, they wonder if more caution should be urged when it comes to a key section of the province’s Clean Water Act.

The key section of the Act, argues Theresa McClenaghan, executive director and counsel for CELA, as well as Richard D. Lindgren, a staff lawyer with CELA, protects all municipal drinking water sources in Ontario from some of the most serious hazards and threats. Their concern, as detailed in a January 2, 2019 CELA blog post, is that under Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, municipalities seeking development could end up exempt from critical sections of the Clean Water Act.

The CELA members suggest that when a municipality passes an “open for business planning bylaw” it removes the current legal requirement that municipal land use decisions must conform to significant threat policies in source protection plans approved under the Clean Water Act.

“This exemption opens the door to large-scale industrial development in vulnerable areas that may threaten groundwater or surface water resources,” the CELA authors note.

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In what the CELA members call an “appalling epilogue”, they warn of similar consequences to red tape reduction that affected the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013.

“Ontarians must ask: What, exactly, is the red tape being addressed by Bill 66?” write the CELA members. “Would you be supportive if the red tape being removed is intended to protect something you care about, such as drinking water safety? Or the Greenbelt? Or liveable communities? Unfortunately, all three matters are being targeted by Bill 66,” the pair adds in their blog post.

Environmental Defence, a group of lawyers acting in the interests of the environment, has also issued a statement critical of Ontario’s Bill 66. It warns that Bill 66 “promises provincial intervention to advance development proposals on the Greenbelt, Oak Ridges Moraine, within Source Water Protection Areas, and in formerly protected areas within the Lake Simcoe Watershed,” according to a December 2018 statement from the organization.

“New developments would be exempt from drinking water source protection plans, and could be built regardless of their risk to water,” notes Environmental Defence.

The new Ontario bill also proposes repealing the Toxics Reduction Act of 2009 by the end of 2021.

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