Steamrolling the way for development, behind closed doors

Steamrolling the way for development, behind closed doors

While Ontarians grapple with the social and economic impacts of a global pandemic, the Government of Ontario is quietly setting the stage for development projects to proceed without public consultation or the right to appeal. Without alerting the public through notices on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO), the government has been issuing and revoking Minister’s Zoning Orders – effectively eliminating public participation in each planning decision.

A Minister’s Zoning Order allows the Minister to directly zone land for particular purposes. The Minister does not have to give notice or consult with the public prior to issuing or revoking ...

While Ontarians grapple with the social and economic impacts of a global pandemic, the Government of Ontario is quietly setting the stage for development projects to proceed without public consultation or the right to appeal. Without alerting the public through notices on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO), the government has been issuing and revoking Minister’s Zoning Orders – effectively eliminating public participation in each planning decision.

A Minister’s Zoning Order allows the Minister to directly zone land for particular purposes. The Minister does not have to give notice or consult with the public prior to issuing or revoking a zoning order.

In 2009, zoning orders were used to give effect to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan in the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, clearly stipulating that there was to be no development on lands set aside for agriculture, nature conservation, flood control and outdoor recreation. At that time, notice was posted on the ERO, even though it wasn’t required. In late April this year, however, the government unilaterally removed these protective regulations without public notice.

In late April, the government also issued at least three new Minister’s Zoning Orders that will pave the way for development in parts of Vaughan, Whitchurch-Stouffville, Markham and Brampton, again without notice on the ERO, thus eliminating any opportunity for public scrutiny or input. Where is the public accountability? Can people not expect to participate in critical land use decisions that may affect drinking water, farmland and green spaces in their communities?  

Minister’s Zoning Orders are not subject to appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). Given the lack of opportunity for public input, it is appropriate that zoning orders be used rarely and judiciously. This recent flurry of decisions to expedite development on farmland and greenspace by issuing or revoking zoning orders is thus a concerning trend. Ontarians can and should have meaningful opportunities to participate in planning decisions affecting their communities now and in the future.

For example, the County of Simcoe has requested a Minister’s Zoning Order for a proposed waste facility, which it wants to build within the Freele County Forest. This controversial matter was appealed to LPAT by a local citizens group, who now may be denied the opportunity to make their case. A zoning order would bypass due process, unilaterally determining the matter in the county’s favour.

Please join Ontario Nature in urging the Government of Ontario to curtail its use of Minister’s Zoning Orders for land-use planning. As Ontario deals with COVID-19 and prepares for our recovery, the focus should be on enhancing community resilience to climate change and potential future pandemics. Enabling and supporting public participation in determining the future of our farmlands, forests, wetlands and other natural areas will be vital to advancing this outcome. Expediting development while keeping Ontarians in the dark does not serve the public interest.

Read more about this issue in a recent Globe and Mail article

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