The Acting Speaker (Mr. Rick Nicholls): Continuing with the lead from the official opposition, I recognize the member from Carleton–Mississippi Mills.
Mr. Jack MacLaren: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Bill 100 is a bad bill, and it should be voted down.
Bill 100 says that an easement for a snowmobile trail could be placed on a farmer’s property. An easement is a legal document that gives someone else a legal right to do something on your private property. An easement becomes legal when it is registered on the title to the farm at the land registry office. A farmer does not have the legal authority to remove an easement from his own property. An easement is the removal of a farmer’s private property rights.
Farmers and snowmobilers have had a positive working relationship for trails across farmland for more than 40 years. It has been a respectful partnership for both sides; it works. So who thinks we need Bill 100 with its talk of easements and eligible bodies who will control the easements? Farmers didn’t ask for easements. Snowmobilers didn’t ask for easements. An easement offers no benefit to either party, but the government thinks we need Bill 100. Why?
Section 5 of the bill says, “The minister may recognize a trail as an Ontario trail of distinction.”
Section 6 says, “The minister may establish a trail classification system.”
Section 8 says, “The minister shall maintain an Ontario trails strategy.”
Section 12.1 says that an “eligible body” means the crown; any government agency, board or commission; a First Nation band or community; a municipality; a conservation authority; a board under the Education Act; a registered charity, trustee or donor; any American land conservancy trust under section 170(h) of the Internal Revenue Code of the United States; or any other person or body or nominee.
Section 12.3 says that an easement may be granted to an eligible body.
Section 12.8 says, “An easement may be assigned by an eligible body to another eligible body….”
Section 13 says that this act does not apply to government-owned or -controlled land.
As you can see, just about anybody can be an eligible body. Therefore, just about anybody will have a right to use your private property if you grant the easement.
It is interesting to see that the government does not want this act to apply to their properties, only private property. I also find it interesting that there’s no talk of easements in urban areas. I wonder how the residents of Rockcliffe in Ottawa or the Bridle Path in Toronto would react to a bill allowing bicycle paths or walking trails through their front and back yards. There’s always the risk that the legislation could be amended to change “may” to “must grant an easement.” This was done with the provincial policy statement a few years ago.
Another even more worrisome risk is that the terms “Ontario trail of distinction,” “trail classification system” and “Ontario trails strategy” could be incorporated into provincial policy for land use planning and then forced into municipal official land use plans as land use restrictions on private property.
Remember, when it comes to land use planning, the province can do anything. The province can override whatever local governments do. This was done with wetlands. First came the powerless “wetland” designation, which over time was changed to the “provincially significant wetlands” designation, which meant that any kind of work or alteration was prohibited by law. The private landowner lost the use and wealth of his property.
Bill 100 is a threat to private property rights. Some farmers are closing their farms to snowmobile trails to protect their property rights. This is pitting neighbour against neighbour for no reason. Bill 100 must be voted down. Then, farmers and snowmobilers can work together to restore the trust and co-operation that they had before, so that the trails can be open for the enjoyment of Ontarians for decades to come.
Mr. Speaker, Kurtis Andrews and Terrance Green are two very respected farm lawyers who have provided legal opinions on this bill. Mr. Andrews states:
“The bill does nothing but cause serious problems for landowners.
“It is obvious that the sole purpose of the bill is to take away property rights from property owners.
“To this end, I agree with the position of the” Ontario Landowners Association.
“Bottom line: the ‘trail bill’ is a terrible piece of proposed legislation with nothing but downside from a property owner’s perspective.
“I would certainly never support the bill.
“Kurtis Andrews, farm lawyer, Ottawa.”
Mr. Green states:
“If I was representing a farmer, I would tell him to write the president of the snowmobile club and inform them that at the end of this season they are to close the trail over the farm as any and all permissions to cross over the farm are revoked with the delivery of this letter.
“I would also tell the farmer or private property owner not to sign any paper, formal or not, that confirms or gives consent to any use of the private property.”
That’s Terrance Green, lawyer at Green and Associates Law Offices in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to you part of a letter from Tom Black, president of the Ontario Landowners Association, regarding his concerns with Bill 100:
“At first glance, most people will think that there is not much to worry about concerning Bill 100, but the Ontario Landowners Association … has learned the hard way that if you let bad legislation pass, then the only way to fix it is in” the courts, “at great expense to the individual.
“I talked to people from the Ontario Trails Council … the people who want this bill passed, and they told me that there are about 2,500 trails in Ontario that total about 80,000 kilometres; 20,000 kilometres of those are on private property.
“Only 25% of the trails in Ontario are on private property and therefore only 25% of Ontario’s trails are affected by this bill.
“The other 75% of the trails do not fall under the authority of this bill.
“This would lead one to wonder if the objective of this bill is to secure rights to private property rather than to secure the future of trails.
“If the intent of the legislation is to protect and preserve snowmobile trails, shouldn’t it apply to all trails?
“Shouldn’t it apply to government property as well as private property?
“One thing for sure, most people on the rural roads know that when you mention conservation authorities, private property, and easements in the same act, nothing good will come of it.”
That’s Tom Black, president, Ontario Landowners Association.
Mr. Speaker, farmers were not asked if they wanted this bill. The bill does nothing for farmers. The bill does nothing for snowmobilers. Farmers and snowmobilers have had a positive working relationship for over 40 years. There is no problem. We don’t need a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. This is a bill that does nothing to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist. Surely we are not going to stand here in this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and tell the people of Ontario that we are going to vote for nothing to do nothing.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, Bill 100 is much ado about nothing. It is undeserving of support. It must be voted down.