Environmental groups concerned about Ontario's repeat violation of the Environmental Bill of Rights

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing prematurely ended the public consultation for Bill 109

Environmental groups concerned about Ontario's repeat violation of the Environmental Bill of Rights
Theresa McClenaghan is the Canadian Environmental Law Association executive director.

With More Homes for Everyone plan (Bill 109) now enacted, which made significant changes to the Planning Act, several environmental organizations have accused the Ontario government of violating the legal requirements set out in the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).

The EBR mandates the government to provide a minimum 30-day public comment period on proposed environmental changes. However, Theresa McClenaghan, the Canadian Environmental Law Association executive director, says the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing prematurely terminated the consultation before the 30 days elapsed.

Law Times previously reported that Ontario received royal assent for legislation to support More Homes for Everyone plan (Bill 109), outlining the province’s actions to address Ontario’s housing crisis. However, environmental organizations assert that changes to the Planning Act will have significant adverse impacts on farmland, water systems and natural areas.

The Planning Act amendments will reduce planning timelines, limit appeals and broaden the Ontario Land Tribunal’s jurisdiction over major land use planning matters. The changes also include establishing 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.

In a letter to Steven Clark, the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, CELA wrote that this is not the first time Ontario has violated the EBR’s public consultation requirements.

Last year, Law Times reported that the Ontario Divisional Court declared that the Ontario government broke the law and violated the EBR when it failed to consult the public before changing the Planning Act. The court found that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing acted “unreasonably and unlawfully” by not consulting with the public on changes to the Planning Act regarding minister’s zoning orders and failed to announce proposed amendments to MZOs on the environmental registry before passing the bill.

CELA said that the ministry’s evasion of the EBR prompted criticism from Ontario’s auditor general in her 2021 annual report to the Legislature. “Given this track record, CELA is both surprised and alarmed that the Ministry has again fundamentally failed to comply with the EBR.”

Similarly, Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature, says the Ontario government 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 Schultz.

Tim Gray, the executive director of Environmental Defence, said the government has again chosen 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.”

Kevin Thomason, the co-founder of Smart Growth Waterloo Region, said 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 evade laws and policies intended to protect our farmland, water, wildlife and natural areas.”

Earthroots executive director Franz Hartmann said the organization has reached out to Ontario’s environment commissioner, Tyler Schulz, asking him to raise the issue with the Ministry of 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.”

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