Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace! By Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

Many people will be familiar with the phrase “Speak now or forever hold your peace”, a phrase which some say originated in the Church of England at wedding ceremonies. It is meant as a last call for anyone to stop the marriage, for good cause, or keep silent. It appears that municipalities are using the same technique when it comes to public meetings about proposed bylaws and official plan amendments.

I was first made aware of this practice by Donna Burns, President of the Renfrew-Nippissing-Pembroke Landowners Association, who discovered that residents who did not attend the public consultation meetings on Renfrew’s Official Plan Amendment 25 would be unable to appeal the designations on their properties. In effect, if the resident did not attend a meeting and did not make a submission, they would not have the right to appeal.

So when the City of Ottawa started publishing the process for their Official Plan Amendment 2016, I was curious if the same technique would be used. It was! However, this requirement was not clearly spelled out to residents. Many people in rural Ottawa received a letter telling them that their land was under review for inclusion in or removal from the Agricultural Resource Area for Ottawa but it was only in the fine print, which was not mailed to all residents, that the requirement to make a submission was spelled out.

Many people do not know what an Official Plan Amendment is let alone what impact it can have on their rights to use their land. I would guess that most residents would be unaware of the need to make a submission in order to appeal a decision to designate their land in a particular way. This practice reminds me of the negative billing option used by cable companies in the 1990’s. The practice was outlawed in Canada in 1999 and in Ontario in 2005. As more people become aware of this requirement, it may have an unintended consequence: that of having residents make submissions on any number of matters “au cas où”. There must be a better way as this practice makes no sense to me. There was no mention of this requirement in the first letter sent to rural landowners. It appears that this information was only available to those who went online and signed up for updates.

If your municipality or county is in the process of doing an official plan amendment, you may want to check closely to see if the “implied consent” method of consultation is being used.