“Auto-pilot planning” is no substitute for political decision-making

Planning regulations are not administered in a vacuum; they are the product of and subject to policy agendas set by elected officials. The situation in Simcoe County illustrates that planning regulations cannot in themselves make the decisions and judgments for how to manage a rapidly growing region. The challenge in Simcoe is not merely of a technical nature. It is fundamentally political, and political challenges require political solutions. Right now the planning regime is running on auto-pilot. In day-to-day business, it mostly does what it is supposed to do. But without political direction from the Province, the system can be manipulated to produce outcomes counter to the spirit of the policy.

The provincial government's moves toward reforming the Planning Act and the PPS show promise. The difficult cross-jurisdictional growth management challenges cannot, however, be solved by regulatory change alone. Institutional structures and the division of powers among jurisdictions must be revisited. The pattern of development in Simcoe and across the Toronto region will be the product of the ability of governments -- local and provincial -- to make decisions and to establish an effective regulatory environment to achieve them.