Ontario minister's zoning orders controversy

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The Ontario minister’s zoning orders controversy refers to an ongoing controversy of the government of Ontario's use of minister’s zoning orders (MZOs), which allows it to override municipal council decisions on development. Both the frequency of their use and the way in which the government has used them has come under criticism.[1][2]

Minister’s Zoning Orders[edit]

Under the Planning Act, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the authority to issue a minister’s zoning order (MZO) over any property in the province, determining the development plan for that property even if it overrules a municipal zoning bylaw.[3] There is no process for appealing an MZO. The use of MZOs has traditionally been reserved mostly for emergency situations, such as after the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall, which killed two people.[4][5]

After winning a majority in the 2018 Ontario general election, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario formed a new government in the province, led by Premier Doug Ford. The government then began using MZOs at a significantly increased rate compared to previous governments.[6] Between 2019 and early 2021, Ford's government issued well over 30 MZOs, approaching the total of 49 MZOs that had been issued in the province between the 1969 and 2000, a period of three decades.[7][8]

In October 2020, the government issued a set of MZOs aimed at the West Don Lands in Toronto, allowing for towers up to 50 storeys tall to be built without the city's approval. Several Toronto city councillors voiced their disapproval of the orders, with mayor John Tory stating that "I think that is a less than ideal situation, to say the least."[9] In January 2021, a number of community groups protested against the attempted demolition of heritage-listed buildings at the Dominion Foundry Site.[10] Court action forced province to pause demolition until legal issues could be resolved.[11]

In December 2020, the government passed Bill 229, the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020. The bill contained a number of changes to development regulations in the province, notably eliminating the ability of conservation authorities to veto MZOs.[12]

In early March 2021, the government issued a further six MZOs, of which half overrided environmental limits on development proposals from Flato Developments. While announcing the MZOs, Ford defended his government's use of the orders, stating that "we will never stop issuing MZOs for the people of Ontario."[13] Later that month, the government issued another order for a plot on the west side of Beeton, allowing Flato Developments to build a 995 units on the site, despite the site being located on a flood plain managed by the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority.[14]

In April 2021, the government passed Bill 257, the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021. Schedule 3 of the Act implemented further amendments to the Planning Act allowing it to issue MZOs that clash with the provincial government's development master plans. The bill further applied to all previously issued MZOs retroactively.[15][16][17]


The government has defended its use of the orders, arguing that they are necessary to help create jobs and affordable housing, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario. The government has also stated that it only issues them in accordance with the wishes of the local municipalities.[18]

The government's use of MZOs has been described as part of a strongman approach to governance by Ford, preferring to force through policies without consideration of the destabilising effects it could have.[19] Some commentators have described the government's use of MZOs as undemocratic and have accused the government of trying to evade accountability.[20] The Ontario Federation of Agriculture stated that the "frequent use [of the orders] undermines Ontario’s long-established system of land use planning."[21]

The government has been accused of corruption over its use of MZOs, particularly by favouring developers close to the Progressive Conservative Party.[22] In December 2020, the Ontario NDP released evidence suggesting that around half of the MZOs issued by the government since March 2020 predominately benefited developers that had links to the Progressive Conservative Party.[23]

Other commentators have criticised the environmental impact the government's use of MZOs would have, such as the plan to pave over parts of the Lower Duffins Creek wetland in Pickering and the plan for greenbelt development.[24][25] Environmental Defence Canada has campaigned against the use of the orders, stating that "in addition to creating long term damage to the environment, increasing property taxes, and enabling more sprawl to eat up Ontario’s best farmland, the Minister has sent a strong message to the Ontario public that their opinion isn’t valuable, that experts don’t matter and that decisions enabling development are his alone."[26]

The government had previously also passed a bill that stripped a number of powers from local conservation authorities.[27] The government's approach has been described as harming local conservation authorities, with Conservation Ontario general manager Kim Gavine stating that they were now "basically the only landowners in Ontario who cannot appeal most planning decisions which affect their lands."[28] In December 2020, seven members of the Ontario Greenbelt Council resigned in protest over the government's approach to development.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dear World: Meet Doug Ford, One of Canada's Most Unpopular Politicians". www.vice.com.
  2. ^ "How communities are fighting MZOs (Ministerial Zoning Orders)". thestar.com. February 18, 2021.
  3. ^ "Minister's zoning orders". www.ontario.ca. Retrieved May 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ "What To Know About MZOs, Ford's Development Tool That Environmentalists Hate". HuffPost Canada. December 9, 2020.
  5. ^ McGrath, John Michael (March 12, 2021). "The Tories didn't invent MZOs. Whoever comes next is going to face the same problems". TVO.org. Retrieved May 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ "Doug Ford's provincial government 'sidesteps' local community, overrules Toronto on developments in West Don Lands". thestar.com. October 26, 2020.
  7. ^ "'Poster child for destruction': The fight to save the Duffins Creek wetland from developers". TVO.org.
  8. ^ "Ontario issues special orders to approve developers' plans and quash opposition" – via The Globe and Mail.
  9. ^ "Toronto officials slam provincial order that sidesteps planning for West Don Lands". cbc.ca. October 27, 2020. Retrieved May 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ "Provincial demolition of Toronto heritage buildings for affordable housing development raises community ire". globalnews.ca. January 18, 2021.
  11. ^ "Province in talks with city on fate of Foundry buildings as court battle postponed for now". cbc.ca. February 23, 2021. Retrieved August 7, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ "Conservation authority worries new law flouts protection policy". thestar.com. December 20, 2020.
  13. ^ McIntosh, Emma (March 9, 2021). "'We will never stop': Ford government approves 6 new zoning orders as backlash grows". Canada's National Observer.
  14. ^ "Beeton development land approved by Ministerial Zoning Order". thestar.com. March 18, 2021.
  15. ^ McIntosh, Emma (March 4, 2021). "Ford government expanding MZO powers to dodge lawsuit and pave over wetland: internal document". Canada's National Observer.
  16. ^ Crawley, Make (March 5, 2021). "To pave way for wetland development, Ford government retroactively changing law". cbc.ca. Retrieved May 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ "Advocates, opposition slam Ontario government's move to strengthen minister's zoning power". Global News.
  18. ^ "Ontario premier defends use of development tool as concern mounts over fast-tracked projects". Toronto. March 10, 2021.
  19. ^ Zivo, Adam (April 30, 2021). "Adam Zivo: Doug Ford's apology was a start but will it still be his Ontario come election time?". National Post.
  20. ^ "Municipalities vexed by Ontario zoning orders" – via The Globe and Mail.
  21. ^ "OFA letter to Minister Clark regarding use of Minister's Zoning Orders". ofa.on.ca. December 1, 2020. Retrieved May 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ McIntosh, Emma (February 16, 2021). "Exclusive: Doug Ford donors benefit as fast-tracked developments override environmental concerns". Canada's National Observer.
  23. ^ Crawley, Mike (December 9, 2020). "Ford government using special provincial powers to help developer friends, NDP alleges". CBC News.
  24. ^ "Duffins Creek wetlands vs. a warehouse: Resisting Doug Ford's assault on communities and the environment". Greenpeace Canada.
  25. ^ "Editorial | Doug Ford takes an axe to greenbelt protections". December 10, 2020 – via www.thespec.com.
  26. ^ 4 min read (August 28, 2020). "You may have never heard of a Minister's Zoning Order and that used to be ok - but not anymore - Environmental Defence". Environmentaldefence.ca. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
  27. ^ "Ford government to strip some powers of conservation authorities". 640 Toronto.
  28. ^ "Conservation authorities' power still under threat". nugget.
  29. ^ "Province refuses to kill controversial legislation in wake of Greenbelt Council resignations". cbc.ca. December 7, 2020. Retrieved May 21, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)