Lackluster Logic Threatens Local Democracy
In the wake of the McGuinty government’s unprecedented regulation to exempt a gas fired electrical peaker plant in King Township from the Planning Act, will municipal councils have any democratic role in local planning in Ontario? This is an important question that deserves an answer from Premier McGuinty, especially as he prepares to address the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) in Windsor today.
The seemingly simple act of misusing this regulation, in a manner contrary to its own enabling legislation, could forever negatively impact the Greenbelt and numerous other pieces of environmental and planning legislation. In an absurd logical twist, reminiscent of a Monty Python skit, the government gave the gas plant a conditional environmental assessment provided it complied with all local planning requirements. The government then exempted the plant from the very same local planning laws. This sets a dangerous precedent for the entire province of Ontario and every municipality within it.
The lacklustre logic involved in this decision should have AMO delegates wondering what role the Premier envisions for municipalities in Ontario. Will the burden of standing up for due process fall on the shoulders of citizens? Will other municipalities, like King Township, be placed in the difficult position of having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend provincial legislation from the government itself?
Although the province has a responsibility to ensure Ontarians have access to a reliable supply of electricity, I do not believe it is right or effective to destroy local democracy in the process. The one thing I do know is that a comprehensive energy plan will need wide public consultation. An effective energy plan will require openness and a level of engagement that is sorely lacking in the McGuinty government. I have spent time talking with German and Danish energy experts about the 21st century transformation of their electrical systems. Their success, particularly in getting renewable energy installed, was by working with, not in opposition to, local municipalities and residents.
Today, it’s time for the Premier to commit to treating municipalities as full partners in planning for our future. It is time to restore local democracy in Ontario.