Planning board raises concerns with proposals for Island Official Plan

GORE BAY—While no final comments have been made by members of the Manitoulin Planning Board (MPB) concerning the draft decision made by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MMA) on the Manitoulin Official Plan, members did voice some concerns on what is being proposed by the ministry after deliberations with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising and Wikwemikong Unceded Territory.

Ken Noland, chair of the board, told the MMA representatives after their presentation that the planning board has no concerns with implementing policies set out in the Provincial Police Statement in 2014 in regards to coordinating planning applications with local Aboriginal communities. However, he pointed out the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands’ (NEMI) Official Plan (OP) was approved by the ministry in less than a year. “What changed with our OP that we have to add more to our plan?”

Mr. Noland said the MPB wants to have the same policy written into NEMI’s OP in the MPB OP. The NEMI policy states, “public consultation regarding proposed official plan amendments, proposed zoning by-law amendments, proposed plans of subdivision and proposed consents will be undertaken as directed by the planning act and all relevant regulations.”

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“We had significant comments from the UCCMM and Wikwemikong on the (MPB) draft OP,” said Wendy Kauffman of the MMA. She pointed out the UCCMM did not provide comments on the NEMI plan. “They did not provide comments on the NEMI (OP),” but did provide comments on the MPB OP.

“That’s why the modifications have been created in the (MPB) OP,” said Ms. Kauffman. “We are responding to the comments that we have received; they are extensive, and there is a need to come to a middle ground to engage with Indigenous communities in the planning process.”

“I am quite disturbed that a middle ground solution was put together, when it was province and Indigenous communities that made these plans and the (MPB) board was not there,” stated Mr. Noland.

“We’re here to get comments on the draft decision,” said Ms. Kauffman.

Elva Carter, former secretary-treasurer of the MPB, said, “there are a couple of things that bother me about the policies and what they do to the OP. The most outstanding objection is the time frames being proposed in the planning applications. The requirement for circulation has always been addressed in the planning act. Now the province is proposing a minimum time frame of 30 days be set for early consultation and engagement with the UCCMM and Wikwemikong. No other agency is being provided this.”

“I think this is going a little overboard,” said Ms. Carter. “And we took a lot of time meeting with First Nations in 2012, and there were no concerns raised until the final statutory public meeting.” She noted as well, “the provincial policy statement already requires consultation.” She said the modifications being suggested go beyond the policies of the Provincial Policy Statement 2014 and other provincial mandates.

Earlier in the meeting Ms. Kauffman and Kay Grant with the MMAH made a presentation concerning the draft decision with respect to the MPB OP modifications. “We appreciate we have been able to work closely with the board to resolve several issues, and to discuss further changes we are considering,” said Ms. Kauffman.

The two MMA representatives outlined  that they had made presentations regarding the draft OP modifications submitted to the MPB this past July. The Official Plan update was first started in 2012, to the present , and policies that were implemented into the document were due to a newer version of the provincial policy statement form 2005 to 2014. Then, the newest modifications were presented to the board this past July.

The MMA has suggested additions in the OP that a middle ground be set to engage with local Indigenous communities in the planning process, including a 30 day early consultation and an engagement protocol with the UCCM and Wikwemikong be implemented after concerns had been raised by the UCCM.

Within the changes and additions being proposed by the MMA includes  that the OP will be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the constitution Act, 1992. The Planning Board and/or its member municipalities will engage with the Indigenous community where the duty to consult, and if approximately accommodate, arises regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights; within three years after the approval of the OP, the MPB shall prepare an area wide natural heritage system strategy, working in consultation with interested organizations, agencies, and/or partners, and work cooperatively with interested Indigenous communities to help inform the delineation of the Natural heritage system including the inclusion of traditional knowledge in the establishment of this system.

Mr. Noland noted that the board members had just received the document from the MMA the day before, not allowing much time to provide input on the proposals.

“I was in Cockburn Island yesterday, and received the message that we had received this document. I  am certainly not in a position to make meaningful comments on it tonight. I’m in the dark except for what has been delivered in the past 25 minutes,” said board member Ian Anderson.

“I agree with what Ian has said,” said Richard Stephens. “We have had very little time to digest all of this and discuss this with our consultants.”

“I know I’m not ready to comment on the modifications that have been made,” said Lee Hayden.

Board consultant on the OP made some very preliminary comments on what has been suggested, but said much more review on the proposed mods and discussion with the board is required. He did say he thinks some of mods are good and middle ground can be found, but it cause some concerns for the MPB as well.

Ms. Kauffman said “we appreciate the board wanting more time to review the modifications we have presented, to talk to your (MPB) staff and consultants.”

“This is something the board will have to discuss with our consultants,” said Mr. Noland, who questioned, “if you have already come up with a middle ground solution with our Indigenous communities without our input, how much weight will our (MPB) comments be given by the ministry?”

“We want the board to take as much time as is needed for the board to come back with its comments and for us to weigh these comments. We are already past the May 26 deadline for our decision (to give final approval to the OP). We want to consider the comments and input the board has,” added Ms. Kauffman.