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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Province pushing through with Barrie expansion

Ontario has begun consulting the aboriginal community as well as called meetings with Barrie, Innisfil and Simcoe County to push through its proposed plan for growth in the region.

As part of a June 4 announcement, Ontario unveiled “Simcoe Area: A Strategic Vision for Growth”, which effectively throws out the county’s growth plan, the result of almost two years of work and culminating in the county’s new Official Plan, now in limbo; Barrie’s OP is also on hold.

Planning throughout Simcoe County is on hold as the proposed Barrie-Innisfil Boundary Act works its way through the legislative process. Official Plans – the long-range documents that define what type of development will occur where – are all on hold.

Municipal Affairs regional director Larry Clay told Simcoe County the province is still waiting for the county to explain its proposed plan, which is on hold as Ontario consults with the natives and examines whether it fits with the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.

“Given that the ministry is the approval authority (for the county plan) we have initiated a process to consult with the Aboriginal communities in and around the Simcoe area that may have an interest in the plan,” Clay told county planning director Bryan McKell in a letter last week.

“Second, as you are aware, county staff are currently in the process of finalizing a land budget exercise that is intended to support some of the land use and policy decision it has made through the adopted official plan. Our staff are awaiting this critical information,” he reminded the planner of a November 2008 request.

“Third, on June 2, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan was finalized. Our staff are assign how this plan now affects the Simcoe County official plan, and if any additional policies need to be incorporated.”

He told McKell work will continue this summer, and already last week, Deputy Premier George Smitherman – whom Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed to lead consultations on the proposed legislation – met with Barrie and Innisfil mayors and the county warden last Wednesday.

Ontario’s Growth Secretariat cut population and employment allocations for the next 25 years in all but Barrie, Orillia, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Collingwood and New Tecumseth. The province envisions a vibrant urban centre, Barrie, being supported by “ a strong network of communities.”
County council is to discuss the issue at its next regular meeting, scheduled for June 23.

“I believe we have to have an official vote to see if we support this (proposed solution),” said Essa Mayor David Guergis.
“It’s an important announcement and it affects all of us directly.”

Ever since, however, Ontario has had senior bureaucrats talking with municipal CAOs and planners; as well, Deputy Premier George Smitherman met separately with Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson, Simcoe County Warden Tony Guergis and Barrie’s boundary working group last Wednesday. Premier Dalton McGuinty has appointed Smitherman to lead the consultations on the province’s vision for the county.

“Our voice wasn’t properly heard. We need to have a better voice – or they’re going to make us irrelevant,” the Essa mayor added.