Province brushes aside expert warnings about threat to the environment, the rule of law – and the future solvency of municipal governments
TORONTO, ONT./TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE HURON-WENDAT, THE ANISHNAABEG, HAUDENOSAUNEE, CHIPPEWAS AND THE MISSISSAUGAS OF THE CREDIT FIRST NATION – Yesterday, the Government of Ontario used its majority to force passage of Bill 257 – including Schedule 3, which amends the Planning Act to give the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing nearly unchecked power to fast-track development on precious farmland and significant natural areas across the province. The revised law exempts Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) from requirements to be consistent with fundamental land use planning principles and requirements, set out in the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS).
The government has used Bill 257, the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021, as a Trojan horse to stage its attack on environmentally sensitive lands. It has ignored near-unanimous warnings from farm organizations, municipalities, environmental NGOs, legal practitioners, and thousands of other Ontarians about the on-the-ground dangers that the changes pose to the rule of law in Ontario.
“Bill 257’s amendments to the Planning Act turn MZOs – tools which are already flagrantly abused – into blunt instruments for sweeping aside any concern that stands in the way of a favoured developer’s project. The result will be to expose people to floods and landslides, pave over much of our best remaining farmland, woodland, and wetlands, and burden municipal governments with even more unsustainable neighborhoods that lack enough density to support their own maintenance, operations and services” said Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager at Environmental Defence.
“Our farmland and natural areas are now vulnerable to the whims of the Minister,” says Caroline Schultz at Ontario Nature. “MZOs jeopardize the many benefits that these places provide, including flood control, local food, clean water, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and more.”
MZOs are issued without public notice or opportunity for appeal, sidestepping planning rules around public consultation. Now, with the Bill 257 changes, they can no longer be challenged in the courts, regardless of potential adverse environmental, social or economic impacts. This situation is compounded by last December’s amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act forcing Conservation Authorities to acquiesce to MZOs even where they know it will expose Ontarians to flooding, landslides or other environmental hazards.
“The Ontario government has introduced Bill 257 to provide legal cover for its unlawful use of MZOs. This bill puts protected wetlands and natural features across Ontario at risk of being destroyed” said Laura Bowman, Ecojustice lawyer. “It is a replay of the strategy the provincial government used to tear up Ontario’s climate laws in 2018, and to gut environmental assessment in Bill 197 last year. Break the law, then rewrite the law to try to cure their illegal conduct.”
With Bill 257, the government is depriving land use planners, elected councils and other community members of the leverage that they need to insist that developers comply with the PPS. It has undermined the rule of law and procedural fairness that we expect in Ontario.
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE: Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defence clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.
About Ontario Nature: Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters, and more than 150 member groups across Ontario.
About Ecojustice: Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.