It is alarming that the Ford government seems intent on dismantling Ontario’s environmental protection regulations. Does this government truly understand what it is doing and the risk it is taking?
It does seem that in burying revisions to Minster’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) within Schedule 3 of the Omnibus Bill 257, Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021, the government is at least sensitive to how it is perceived by the people of Ontario in its use of this non-democratic manoeuvre.
This government’s use of MZOs, especially in the past year, has not only been excessive but draconian in nature. In particular, the MZO issued to allow construction of a warehouse on a Provincially Significant Wetland at Duffins Creek in Pickering has resulted in widespread condemnation from the public and legal action against the government.
The government has rescinded this MZO but only after Pickering council made the request when the potential occupant of the proposed warehouse indicated it would not be proceeding in locating to this site. The government’s strong-arm tactics failed in this instance because the potential occupant of the warehouse did not want to become embroiled in an environmental fiasco initiated by Pickering and supported by the provincial government.
The lawsuit against the provincial government arises from the argument that the MZO was used in violation of Ontario’s Planning Act. In addition, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has indicated that it was forced to issue a construction permit under duress by the Ford government.
This was contrary to its normal practices and was only made possible by the government’s recent questionable change of responsibilities mandated to conservation authorities.
To counter this lawsuit the government has produced Schedule 3 to shield itself from its infractions of the Provincial Policy Statement regarding this MZO. Schedule 3 of Bill 257 proposes to amend the Planning Act to allow an MZO to be inconsistent with the Provincial Policy Statement. In addition, the changes would provide that any existing MZO (for example, for Duffins Creek) was never required to be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement.
In other words, to counter breaking the law, the government is simply changing the law to accommodate its own goal. Unfortunately, the goal is quite hazy and the benefits even more so. Apart from a few rich and powerful friends of the government, there is little or no advantage to the people of Ontario. There is a general perception by the public that Minister’s Zoning Order’s are being issued mainly to reward large financial contributors to the Conservative Party of Ontario.
It is ironic that the government talks about using MZOs to protect provincial interests, like environmentally sensitive areas, while attempting to bring in legislation that will do the complete opposite. The minister should rethink his stance concerning zoning orders and leave it to the municipalities to determine if and what should be developed within their jurisdictions. To do otherwise supports the perception of corrupt practices at play.