Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark launched a defence of his frequent use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) during his recent online address at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference, calling MZOs a valuable tool to cut red tape in support of the province’s recovery.
Recent criticism of MZOs has come from the opposition NDP and from such groups as Ontario Nature, which organized an email campaign urging its supporters to write to Clark.
Ontario Nature argued in a statement, “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 without having to give public notice, Ontario Nature explained.
In late April, Clark issued MZOs for projects in Vaughan, Whitchurch-Stouffville, Markham and Brampton without notice on the ERO. One published report said Clark has issued eight MZOs in the past year, more than the Kathleen Wynne government did in four years.
Clark told the AMO delegates during his Aug. 18 address that MZOs allow his ministry to help municipal councils give their priority projects a “jumpstart,” allowing them to move ahead faster, and help stimulate their economies.
“Whether it’s helping to build long-term-care homes in Innisfil or Clarington, or hundreds of housing units, including for seniors in Whitchurch-Stouffville, these MZOs help get shovels in the ground faster, create jobs and support local priorities,” he remarked.
Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, passed by the government in July, Clark said, will further reduce delays on “critical projects that local communities need” by enhancing the MZO authority.
“I want to be clear that this new tool cannot be used in the Greenbelt,” said the minister.
A spokesperson in the ministry later indicated that the legislation directly states that the enhanced tool cannot be used in the Greenbelt.
Under the legislation, in areas outside of the Greenbelt, the minister could address site plan matters; amend enhanced zoning orders without being required to publicly consult; and apply inclusionary zoning, to require affordable housing units be included in new developments.
“Our focus on supporting economic recovery has not wavered — we’re helping to build more housing, long-term-care facilities, and leveraging our transit investments, and that is the focus for the enhanced MZO,” commented Clark.
MZOs will be used “strategically,” Clark said, to meet the government’s goals of supporting more affordable housing.
Clark also addressed new development charges measures included in Bill 197.
“We have always been a government that listens, that’s why we consulted, considered your suggestions and modified our proposal,” he said.
There will be two years to transition to the new framework, Clark explained, under which a number of new services will be added to the list of eligible development charges, including long-term care, parks and recreation facilities, libraries and public health.
All will be 100-per-cent cost-recoverable.
The new community benefits charge, he explained, is a revenue tool that some municipalities will be able to use for higher-density residential development.
“These changes will help ensure that growth pays for growth and provide greater predictability for municipal revenues from new development, all while creating the certainty needed to bring more housing online faster.”