May 4, 2022 – Queen’s Park, Ontario – With the recent passing of Bill 109, the Government of Ontario made significant amendments to the Planning Act, violating legal requirements set out in Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR). Even though obliged to provide a minimum 30-day public comment period on the proposed changes, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing prematurely terminated the consultation before the 30 days had elapsed. Leading environmental organizations assert that the adverse impacts of these changes to farmland, water systems and natural areas will be significant.
The Planning Act amendments will reduce planning timelines, limit appeals and broaden the Ontario Land Tribunal’s jurisdiction over major land use planning matters. Also among the changes is the establishment of a new Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator tool intended to expedite development approvals by circumventing provincial land use plans, the Provincial Policy Statement and municipal Official Plans.
This is not the first time that the Government of Ontario has violated the EBR’s public consultation requirements. The Auditor General of Ontario raised a similar concern in 2020 when the government passed Bill 197, amending the Planning Act without meeting EBR public consultation requirements. In that case, a group of concerned organizations and individuals mounted a successful legal challenge. The Ontario Divisional Court determined that the Government of Ontario broke the law and that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing had acted “unreasonably and unlawfully” in failing to consult with the public.
“The Government of Ontario is a repeat offender. We had a court ruling on a remarkably similar issue last year – unlawful amendments to the Planning Act brought forward by the same ministry and the same minister. Such contempt for our rights and our laws is deeply disturbing,” said Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature
“The government has chosen once again to ignore the rule of law and expedite development at any cost. These actions suggest a profound disrespect for our environmental rights and for our legal system,” said Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence.
“The new Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator is bad news. It rebrands and takes Minister’s Zoning Orders to the next level opening a new pathway to circumvent laws and policies intended to protect our farmland, water, wildlife and natural areas,” said Kevin Thomason, Co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region.
“We have reached out to Ontario’s Commissioner of the Environment, Tyler Schulz, asking him to raise the issue with the offending ministry – Municipal Affairs and Housing. At the very least, we are looking for a clear commitment and steps the ministry will take to ensure it never again violates legal obligations under the EBR,” said Franz Hartmann, Executive Director of Earthroots.
About ONTARIO NATURE (ontarionature.org): Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. A charitable organization, Ontario Nature represents more than 30,000 members and supporters, and 160 member groups across Ontario.
About EARTHROOTS (earthroots.org): Earthroots is a grassroots conservation organization dedicated to the protection of Ontario’s wilderness, wildlife and watersheds, through research, education and action.
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.
About SMART GROWTH WATERLOO REGION (smartgrowthwaterloo.ca): Smart Growth Waterloo Region is a group of citizens of Waterloo who want to enjoy both thriving liveable cities and a sustainable countryside.