Muskoka Lakes Council denied the first two attempted exemptions to firework prohibition on Wednesday.
Two separate residents spoke before council seeking an exemption from the bylaw. One was for a wedding the other for a private celebration.
Earlier this year council passed a fireworks prohibition on fireworks for all but Victoria Day weekend, Canada Day and New Year’s Day/Eve. The firework prohibition did include the option for individuals to apply directly to council to get a possible exemption. The bylaw states that special events such as birthday parties or anniversaries would not be included as possible exemptions.
These were the first applications for an exemption to the bylaw before council. The first was by Ron Eldridge requesting an exemption for his daughter’s wedding. The second was from Ethan Douglas who was applying for an exemption for a private celebration.
Much of the debate amongst council revolved around the purpose of the bylaw, vague rationale for possible exemption and the wish to not allow exemptions.
Eldridge’s application received support from councillor Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa. She said that this process allowed council to have control over firework use which was the point of the bylaw.
“When we put the bylaw in place, it was so we could control what was going on. There was no control in the past,” Nishikawa said.
Nishikawa did add that there residents are still using fireworks in spite of the prohibition and that the bylaw has not been as effective as she would have believed.
Councillor Barb Bridgeman disagreed with Nishikawa that council control was the reason for the firework prohibition and that she was concerned with the precedent set by allowing the exemption.
“I thought we were putting this bylaw in place to protect our wildlife and to protect the environment. So that we don’t have the one-offs that are actually coming to us today. I can see having an awful lot of people come to us for birthday parties and weddings going forward,” Bridgeman said.
The issue of precedence and specifically public confusion was touched on by councillor Frank Jaglowitz.
“All people surrounding are going to see it. And they’re going to wonder, are they violating the bylaw? And now we’re going to get a whole bunch of complaints. How do we address that?” Jaglowitz said.
Both applicants highlighted that they had informed their neighbours and received no opposition.
Council voted to deny both applications but did not clear up what criteria it was using to do so.
The lack of criteria with which to grant an exemption proved frustrating for councillors and applicants. After his application was denied, Eldridge questioned the process of even hearing exemptions.
“It is disappointing and it begs the question, what’s the point of asking for an exemption if exemptions across the board are not going to be given. I’m just struggling to understand the process,” Eldridge said.
Mayor Phil Harding said that council had no established criteria with which to judge the applicants.
“This is new to council that we’re having to deal with this. Unfortunately, we don’t have any kind of evaluation criteria,” Harding said.
He added that council and municipal staff needed to set out prescribed reasons for an exemption.
Councillor Glenn Zavitz took issue with the section of the bylaw that allowed for exemption applications.
“I have no appetite and people that I’ve talked to have no appetite for fireworks. And why we would be providing exemptions when we just enacted the bylaws? It just blows my mind,” Zavitz said.
He went on to say that the unclear process was a waste of time for all parties.
“We wasted these people’s time, and many, many others. And I think we need to send a clear message,” Zavitz said.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!