The Federation of Citizens Associations represents 70 community groups in Ottawa. We often find ourselves embroiled in planning issues of the day, whether it be large (city of Ottawa Official Plan) or small (a rezoning in a local neighbourhood). In this provincial election we think land-use planning should be an election issue.
The responsibility for the rules and principles in land-use planning lies with the provincial government, under the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement. The government allows municipalities to manage the process, as it is local residents, who will be affected by land development decisions in their community and the provision of infrastructure, who can hold local decision-makers accountable. That is why public notice, consultation and participation are fundamental principles in Ontario’s land-use planning process.
So why is land-use planning now a provincial election issue?
Decisions by the Doug Ford government are undermining local autonomy and due process involving public participation in matters of land development.
Take Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs): The minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the power to override local planning policies to impose zoning conditions to favour a site-specific development. This can be done without notice, without holding a public hearing involving affected residents, without any accountability to the local community, and without appeal. It is an arbitrary power, subject to political lobbying, and inconsistent with the principles embedded in the Planning Act. The Ford government has made extensive use of MZOs.
Then there’s the city of Ottawa Official Plan: The minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing reviews and approves municipal official plans (the overall planning document for a municipality) providing it meets the direction of its Provincial Policy Statement. The Planning Act requires this process to be completed within 120 days. The city of Ottawa submitted its revised Official Plan last December and the deadline for ministerial approval has now passed, without explanation. The city’s revised Official Plan seeks to accommodate growth through a combination of expanding the urban boundary and intensifying current urban areas. However, some land developers found their projects not included in the plan and are lobbying for inclusion (thereby increasing urban spawl). The Ford government has delayed approving the city’s Official Plan until after the provincial election, making the plan an election issue.
Then there’s the Ontario Task Force on Housing Affordability and Bill 109: Earlier this year, the Ford government established a developer-led Task Force on Housing Affordability, with the goal of “improving” the planning process to accommodate more housing development. Its recommendations essentially supported reducing the role of public participation in the planning process, attacked heritage designations as an “obstacle” to development, proposed measures to “streamline” the land development approval process, and promoted more greenfield development (eg. more urban sprawl).
The Ford government immediately brought in Bill 109 (More Homes for Everybody Act) adopting some of the task force recommendations, pushing through the legislation in a record two weeks. Bill 109 eliminated the public’s role in site plan approvals, created a new, powerful tool for the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (the Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator) to impose higher densities without consideration to local zoning or Official Plan policies, without public notice, consultation, and accountability.
As well, it permitted the minister to refer all or part of a municipality’s official plan to the Ontario Land Tribunal for adjudication — helpful for developers who want to contest the plan’s designation of their land and could convince the minister to refer their project to the OLT. These provisions again circumvent due process and the role of public notice, consultation and participation in land development approvals, and local accountability.
The provincial election is the opportunity to raise these issues and reinforce the value of good public planning, including due process, public notice, public consultation and participation in the planning process, and accountability for land-use planning decisions. We think so: Does your candidate?
Alex Cullen is President of the Federation of Citizens Associations in Ottawa. He was a city councillor from 2000 to 2010, and previously MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean (1997-99), representing first the Ontario Liberal Party and then the Ontario NDP.