OPINION:

The Misuse of MZOs

Feb 19, 2021

CCKT does not support the use of Ministerial Zoning Orders and urges the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to reconsider their use. We firmly believe that Conservation Authorities should retain the power to evaluate the environment impact of development projects and provide the necessary guidance for the proper stewardship of the land.

Following is a letter written by CCKT member Mike Shackleford.

In July 2020 the Provincial government enacted Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020, an omnibus bill that purported to be supporting actual economic recovery. However, buried deep within this document were changes to the Planning Act that gave the Minister the authority to control municipality zoning. 

The general opinion is that the government inserted section 17 as part of the omnibus bill as a means to stifle criticism by preventing public input to and opinion on the Environmental Registry. Consequently, various environmental organizations have since initiated a legal challenge to the government’s action.

With its amendment to section 47 of the Planning Act, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing appointed himself an all powerful commissar of zoning authority, allowing him to override both municipal jurisdictions and compliance to normal building practices.

The Minister, with the use of a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO), can now supposedly cut what this government calls “red tape” to remove what it perceives as potential approval delays in the construction of affordable housing and Long Term Care (LTC) facilities.

However, in reality the Minister is also using the MZO as a tool to eliminate environmental assessments (EA) on development land. In doing so, he is ignoring the long-term ramifications of potentially poorly designed projects.

In addition, the Minister, through the use of a MZO can now force a Conservation Authority (CA) to permit a developer to destroy natural values after negotiating a “pay to slay” agreement, which would allow a developer to pay a fee for the right to do so.

This action is unconscionable and should be regarded as an abuse of the MZO concept. The original reason for the use of an MZO was to facilitate a means to overcome potential barriers and development delays in communities where no Official Plan exists.

Many of these MZOs are of dubious value and may be viewed as favouring certain individuals supportive of the government. There have been a number of requests from developers for the issuing of an MZO to speed up development, others to simply “jump the line” in the process by “dangling a carrot” to incorporate either affordable housing or a LTC facility into the mix of a project. In permitting this action the Minister is corrupting the long term planning vision of municipalities.

Probably, the most controversial decision by the Minister since the enactment of this amendment was issuing an MZO that would permit the destruction of the Lower Duffins Creek Provincially Significant Wetland so that a warehouse and casino can be built. When there was a subsequent general uproar by the public concerning this abuse of power, the Minister’s only response was to abruptly indicate he would remove the Provincially Significant Wetland designation. The tone of this response has signified that the Minister has no patience with dissent and objections to his use of MZOs.

His response to this criticism has indicated no willingness to consider a compromise. In fact, by producing this recent amendment to Bill 197, the Minister has actually allowed himself enhanced powers for site planning control and inclusionary zoning within a municipality. He has, in effect, designated himself more proficient than the staff of a given municipality. 

By exercising these additional powers he potentially can override a municipality’s Official Plan and veto planning that does not conform to his vision. In doing so, he runs the chance of destroying any cohesion of development or character within a community.

Site plans have always been resolved through discussion and negotiation between the planning staff of a municipality and a prospective developer. Both parties have a goal; the municipality to see a project that “fits” with the existing community and the developer to produce that image as inexpensively as possible. Historically, it has resulted in “give and take” by both parties. What will happen now with this unqualified third party dictating the process? 

The Minister has neither the local knowledge of a community nor the expertise to determine what should be built on a certain piece of land. In his desire to move the process along he is not reducing “red tape”, a favourite piece of jargon used by this government, but is actually “cutting corners”. We know by his recent attack on the power of CAs that he has little concern for environmental protection. This combined with his lack of knowledge of the local situation is a recipe for disaster.