Local Groups Join 70 Organizations In Co-Signing Letter To Oppose Ford Government’s Use Of MZOs

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letter
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Groups from in and around Muskoka have joined 70 organizations in voicing their opposition to the Ford government’s use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) as well as the changes brought about by Bill 197.

The South Bracebridge Environmental Protection Group, Parry Sound Nature Club and AWARE Simcoe joined 67 other organizations in co-signing a letter to express their concerns about MZOs as well as Bill 197, which represents 20 amendments and includes changes to the Environmental Assessment Act, Planning Act and more. Under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), ministries are required to post any proposed changes that are environmentally significant on the Environmental Registry to allow for public consultation.

On July 17, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s office advised the Municipal Affairs Ministry to do so before Bill 197 received a third reading by the legislature, but the ministry did not post the proposals. The bill was passed days later on July 21, reducing requirements for public consultation in the environmental assessment process.

“Not providing an opportunity for the public to comment on environmentally significant proposals can undermine public confidence in government transparency and decision-making,” said the auditor general in a November 2020 report. “When ministries forgo public consultation, the government also misses out on receiving input from the diverse voices of the people it serves and the benefits of their input and expertise, which could lead to better environmental outcomes and increased transparency and public acceptance of those decisions.”

The bill’s passage has led to multiple lawsuits as well as pushback from groups such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the 70 groups included in the letter of opposition submitted on Jan. 30. The letter also addressed MZOs, which allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to zone any property in the province without public consultation and without the possibility of an appeal.

“The Minister’s frequent use of MZOs over the past year – again, at a time when Ontarians are pre-occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic – reflects an ongoing disregard for public participation in environmental decision-making,” said the letter. “As noted above, MZOs are not subject to requirements for public notice or comment under the EBR or the Planning Act. Consequently, there is no opportunity for the public to scrutinize or participate in the Minister’s decisions before they are made.”

In the past, MZOs were seldom used in municipalities with existing zoning by-laws unless the project served to protect a provincial interest. But as of Oct. 31 last year, the ministry had issued 29 new MZOs since the start of 2020, which the auditor general described as a “sharp increase” from the previous three years. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark defended the government’s use of MZOs at the virtual Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference on Jan. 26, saying the province is “accelerating critical projects” with the support of municipal partners.

“I want to take this opportunity to make two things very clear: First – Every single MZO that we’ve made on non-provincial land has been at the request of the local municipality…we are committed to working with you to take advantage of this important tool,” Clark said. “And, secondly, our commitment to protecting the Greenbelt remains steadfast – and I am not prepared to consider any MZOs or development within the Greenbelt.”

However, stakeholders are not convinced by Clark’s claims that the province is committed to working with the public or protecting the environment. The Jan. 30 letter describes Bill 197’s amendments to the Planning Act as “part of an insidious pattern of environmental deregulation, which not only threatens precious farmland and natural areas, including Provincially Significant Wetlands, but also rides roughshod over our democratic right to participate in environmental decision-making, enshrined in both the Planning Act and the EBR.”

The 70 groups in the letter are calling on the government to repeal Bill 197 and amend the Planning Act to restrict use of MZOs to areas that lack planning controls and to matters of provincial interest. They’re also pushing for public notice and consultation regarding proposed MZOs as well as a right to appeal them once they are issued.

To read the letter in full, click here.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Could this be related to the Muskoka Royale Development passed by the Bracebridge Town Council? This involves rezoning of Wetlands for the development of a Private School outside of Bracebridge.

    • Hi Mary, this matter is unrelated to the Muskoka Royale development. The Muskoka Royale development was approved by town council through the standard municipal procedures. When MZOs are involved, they take the place of the typical planning process and remove the possibility for an appeal through LPAT, which is still an option for the Muskoka Royale development.

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