Corp Comm Connects

Steamrolling planning with no public participation
April 28, 2022

You might think that local zoning bylaws would determine the use of the property next door to you. Forget it. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing can do that with the sweep of a pen by simply signing a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO). There is no warning, no consultation, no expert opinion and no appeal.

Traditionally, MZOs were a rarity. Between 1969 and 2000, only 49 were issued, primarily for emergency situations.  One was in the middle of an Ontario Municipal Board hearing I was conducting in Toronto. Expert witnesses had presented for only one side when the Liberal minister of the day issued a MZO. The hearing was over.  The decision had been made at the Pink Palace and not in the hearing room. It was a shock to most of us, although probably not the applicant.

In 2021, the Auditor General (AG) stated that between 2019 and early 2021, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government  issued 44 MZOs. Environmental Defence Canada last month reported that Ford’s government has now issued more MZOs than all other Ontario governments in the last 20 years combined.

The AG’s report said that 17 of the 44 orders were issued to the same seven development groups or companies. The NDP then released evidence suggesting many have benefited developers with links to the PC government.

The report stated that 18 of the MZOs were for land previously zoned agricultural or natural heritage protection, affecting some 2,000 acres of farmland and wetland. In addition, the PC government passed a bill stripping powers from local conservation authorities. Some MZOs issued by previous governments to protect sensitive lands have been revoked.

A local Council has to ask for a MZO, but the vote to do so does not have to be unanimous.

In some cases, specific projects triggering requests are not built, but the value of the land increases because of the zoning change.

Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, maintains MZOs should be used more frequently to tackle the housing crisis.  When Vaughan councillors requested that 10% of units to be built under an MZO be affordable, his Ministry responded that affordability “was outside the scope” of a MZO.

MZOs can be useful in unique situations or where urgent action is needed, but there should be a clearer definition as when, and where, that is.

They should not be used to limit public participation in order to line the pockets of government-friendly developers.