Rural Ontario drowning in rules and regulations
With 5,600 pages of rules, ‘ignorance of the law’ is a good excuse
By Wendy Beswick
Ontario is being bombarded with legislation.
According to the Progressive Conservative rural MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox,and Addington, Randy Hillier, we’re drowning in our own rules.
With over half a million regulations listed in the 2012 edition of the Ontario Provincial Offences Act, it is unconceivable for any individual to have even a superficial knowledge of the laws, Hillier says. But section 81 of the Provincial Offences Act states "ignorance of the law by a person, who commits an offence, is not an excuse for committing the offence."
But ignorance of the law is a good excuse, Hillier says. "There’s an old adage that ignorance of the law is no excuse. But I would say to you that was a reasonable adage when you could comprehend and understand the law. But when the law itself creates ignorance, then the adage is no longer justifiable."
These laws control every aspect of a person’s life, from offences under the Highway Traffic Act and Trespass Act, to the ambiguous Endangered Species Act and the exhaustive Clean Water Act. If convicted of a provincial offence, you could be fined, jailed, or both.
"This pocket edition of provincial laws was 2,000 pages in length in 2003," Hillier said as he held up the 2012 edition of the Provincial Offences Act at the Glengarry Landowners Association meeting at the Glengarry Sports Palace on Aug. 14. "But it is now 5,600 pages and the pages are bigger. This is only the pocket edition, which is not the fully complete, comprehensive body of law for the province. This is the Coles Notes version."
It is not just the sensational stories of landowners dealing with endangered species, a technical guide for wildlife habitat, cleaning ditches, selling eggs at a farmers’ market, or cutting down the butternut trees that has Hillier frustrated with increasing regulatory intrusions on the general population. It’s the seemingly hypocritical stance of the government on environmental stewardship.
"The only time you see the sensational story is when you can put a face to the story," says Hillier. "But I have all kinds of horror stories of people who have lost value in their land because of various regulations. What I find sensational is that we have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a plan to make Hwy 15 between Smiths Falls and Kingston safer for the travelling public. But a separate ministry, the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) informed the MTO (Ministry of Transportation) that it was turtle habitat so the tender was then pulled. It is astonishing that the government would jeopardize public safety because of a snake or a turtle."
While landowners can unknowingly find themselves on the wrong side by virtue of changes to land designation, it is often the municipality that has the unenviable task of imposing the more than 50 new land designations on the landowner.
"The pointy-headed bureaucrats are busy drawing lines on maps," Hillier says. "The obscene part of it is that they don’t offer up any information to those people who are affected by these things. It just happens. A farmer can go about his historical farming practices until somebody shows up to say that he is in a municipal intake exclusion zone and he is not allowed to spread manure or even have livestock."
This expanding regulatory environment is stifling rural Ontario and preventing it from flourishing, according to Hillier.
"The provincial policy statement (PPS) is the imposition of Queen’s Park’s vision of what rural Ontario will look like and it is implemented by and large by municipal governments through their official plans and zoning requirements," he says. "For example, previously a farmer could get a severance for a retirement home at his farm. The PPS laid out the whole general framework of reducing or making it difficult to create any residential or commercial development in rural Ontario."
Yet, the regulatory environment will continue to expand unless people rise up, according to Hillier, as he gives his call to action.
"There are only two choices for people," he says. "Do nothing or do something. The path of doing nothing creates an ever expanding pocket edition. But on the other path, you will be loud and be proud. Once government has to pay to compensate, its appetite for government legislation will diminish."