The Ontario government is in the awkward position of inviting comment on a growth plan while signing a deal affecting a specific development in the same area. That is putting the cart before the horse.
Just last week the province tabled an ambitious vision for development in the South Simcoe area, especially in open spaces along Highway 400, roughly between Barrie and the Holland Marsh. Critics are labelling it a surrender in the battle to curb urban sprawl. The plan’s defenders argue it would actually reduce sprawl by concentrating development. The public has been given until Sept. 2 to comment on Queen’s Park’s bold vision. As a ministry news release stated last week: “Simcoe area residents (will) have a chance for their voices to be heard as the strategy for the future of their region is finalized.”
Unfortunately, these consultations have been bypassed on a key parcel of land in the Highway 400 corridor in a pact quietly negotiated this spring by developers, the province and municipal officials.
The agreement would allow Toromont Industries, a Vaughan-based manufacturer, to relocate to green fields at the intersection of Highway 400 and County Road 88, just west of Bradford. The province initially raised concerns about the project but then signed a deal allowing it to proceed while also designating large nearby tracts for further industrial development. The pact went to the Ontario Municipal Board for approval earlier this week. The OMB reserved its decision.
Provincial officials argue that Ontario’s initial concerns have been addressed by the deal. Maybe so, but the public never got a chance to comment on it in the way that their opinion is being sought on the broader growth plan for the Simcoe area.
The province could have – and should have – held off on signing any deal regarding development on the Highway 400 corridor until the full Simcoe plan had been subjected to public consultation.