MZOs – What are They and Why Should You Care?

The MLA considers that the recent increased use of MZOs is something that must be watched. The potential for development in our area could adversely affect our lake should MZOs be used without oversight. Learn why we should care.

Our Ontario government is using a tool to speed up land developments by eliminating expert analysis and public input.

A Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) is part of Ontario’s Planning Act that allows the Ontario Municipal Affairs and House Minister to make a ruling on how a piece of land is to be used in Ontario. There is no chance of appeal by municipalities, citizens or environmental groups. Traditionally MZOs have been used in emergencies – think back to the grocery store collapse in Elliot Lake a few years. But things have changed.

In just over a year, the Minister has issued over 33 new MZOs, far more than the previous Liberal government issued in a 15-year period, the most of recent was for the development of a Provincially Significant Wetland (PSW) in Pickering that you likely heard about. The land was being set aside for the development of an Amazon Fulfillment warehouse. There was tremendous public outcry and Amazon finally indicated, through a press release, that they would not be considering the use of that property for development.

What is interesting is that all Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs) are supposed to be off limits to development. In the Pickering case, there was also significant pressure on the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to issue a development permit and negotiate a ‘pay-to-slay’ agreement with Pickering and the developer where the TRCA gets cash and the wetland is paved over forever. What is ironic is that the original designation of a PSW – areas identified by the province as being the most valuable – has been stripped away.

Recently, the Ontario government passed a new piece of legislation (the recovery bill) which further enhances the powers of the Minister’s Zoning Orders. The bill also enshrines a Provincial Land and Development Facilitator which seems to be built to fast-track development, including low-density sprawl on farmland, forests and wetlands, all outside the normal planning process.

So, why should you care about this?

  • Well, there is the importance of wetlands to consider – they are among the most productive and biologically diverse habitats on the planet. Far from being useless, disease-ridden places, wetlands provide values that no other ecosystem can. These include natural water quality improvement, flood protection, shoreline erosion control, opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation. Countless species of plants and animals depend on wetlands for their survival.

  • Another reason you should care is because of the importance of public consultation. MZOs take away the ability for citizens, agencies and organizations to consult and provide important information and perspective. This is vital in a democratic society.

  • And here’s another reason to care. Do you know that the population of Township of Beckwith is expected to increased 87% between now and 2038? Did you know that the population of the Town of Carleton Place is anticipating 97% growth during that same time period? That is huge growth and it is happening all around us already. There is always the possibility that our municipality offices may request MZOs in the future to support this projected growth.

Our Lake has over 1200 properties and water quality is quite good. We have PSWs around the Lake and they need to be protected. More development around the Lake is concerning as it has the potential to upset the fragile ecosystem and the spectre of an MZO being issued for development in and around the Lake has the potential to eradicate vitally important wetlands and forever change the character of our Lake.

This is why you need to care about MZOs.