The Planning Act 2

The Planning Act also sets out the province’s ability to use Minister’s Zoning Orders (commonly referred to as “MZOs”). These orders allow the province to effectively impose development rights to a property or group of properties, as well as skipping any public process. MZOs are a tool that the province can use, but one that historically has been used with great caution. Used well, cities like Toronto have been able to use them to accelerate affordable housing projects for people experiencing homelessness. Used recklessly, MZOs have threatened both historical buildings in the West Don Lands as well as sensitive wetlands in the Greater Toronto Area. The current provincial government has used them with much higher frequency, and has sought further amendments to expand their powers and use.

Like many municipal processes, urban planning begins with provincial legislation. Under Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867, provinces were given authority over towns and cities within their borders. Municipalities are sometimes referred to as “creatures of the province,” and their lack of Constitutional authority creates an uneven relationship that allows provinces to dictate quite broadly how municipalities are run. The rules for submitting, reviewing, and approving development applications in Ontario stem from the Planning Act.

The Planning Act allows anyone to seek to amend either a municipality’s official plan, zoning by-law, or both. There is no “test” to determine whether an application is appropriate prior to submission; whether it is “good planning” and meets provincial and municipal policy is determined following submission through a public process, including community consultation. The right of appeal is always guaranteed. This both encourages developers to seek amendments, but arguably encourages them to submit aggressively tall and dense applications, either scaling them back during the process or seeking to appeal at the first opportunity if there is pushback from the City and community.

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