Publicly ignored on MZOs, Ontario auditor general says in new environmental report

The minister’s zoning plans should be subject to public scrutiny, Ontario’s auditor general says in a new report that also accuses the provincial government of not being more transparent with the public on environmental issues.

“Ministries are not informing and consulting the Ontarians about all the important environmental decisions they should be making,” Bonnie Lysyk said in the report released Monday.

“Some ministries have deliberately avoided consulting the public about some of the proposals,” she wrote, adding that “even where this circumvention is lawful, such actions to prevent the public from participating are not in accordance with its purpose and spirit.” of the Environmental Bill of Rights Act.

And even when ministries conduct public consultations under the law, “they do not always provide Ontarios with clear, accurate and complete information about their proposals and decisions, including environmental impacts, and do not always provide timely notice,” the statement said. report. “Both are necessary for meaningful consultation and transparency.”

The Star has written extensively about the Ford administration’s frequent use of ministerial zoning plans – known as “MZOs” – to accelerate developments in a non-appealable way.

Lysyk also said that Secretary of State for Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, violated the Environmental Bill of Rights Act “when he failed to consult on changes to the planning law that increased the powers over the Secretary of State’s zoning plans.”

Commenting on the report by Environment Commissioner Lysyk and Tyler Schulz, the Department of Municipal Affairs said: “The Secretary of State has publicly stated that he expects that before a Municipality applies for an MZO, they do their due diligence, which includes consultation in their communities, liaising with conservation authorities and contacting potentially affected indigenous communities.

“The minister has also publicly stated that he expects municipal requirements for a zoning plan to include a supporting council decision. Since council meetings are generally public, this expectation is intended to raise public awareness of a request to the minister to consider creating a zoning plan.

But Lysyk said that “Proposals for zoning plans from the minister under the Planning Act have the potential to have a significant impact on the environment. Repealing the minister’s zoning exemption under the (Environmental Bill of Rights Act) would Giving Ontarios the right to be consulted on environmentally important proposals.”

The report points to Pickering’s Lower Duffins Creek, a sensitive wetland that the minister later removed from his zoning plan, something Lysyk says could have been avoided with proper public consultation.

In 2020, the government issued an MZO for a warehouse and other buildings on the site, which initially included the environmentally sensitive area.

Lysyk also had some tough words for the Department of the Environment and its approach to issues, including dangerous discharges and lack of progress on endangered species policy.

“The public would expect a ministry called the Ministry of the Environment to take the lead and be proactive in ensuring Ontario’s environment is protected for future generations,” she said in Queen’s Park.

However, she added, “Our work indicated that there are many areas where this is not the case.”

Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said: “The lack of accountability for climate and the environment by this administration is simply astonishing. It puts people at risk.”

Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister David Piccini told reporters in Queen’s Park that the government is “vigilantly monitoring species at risk”. He said criticism that an oversight committee is dominated by non-experts and lobbyists ignores the talent, and that “we embrace diversity of opinion”.

He also noted that the government has prepared Ontario’s first climate change impact assessment.

However, NDP critic Peter Tabuns, critic of the climate crisis, said the government is “requesting for rubber stamped MZOs” and “continuing with unnecessary highways”.

“Instead of making major polluters pay for the 78,000 toxic discharges they are responsible for, Doug Ford is forcing Ontario families to pay millions of dollars in cleanup costs, driving major industry off the hook,” Tabuns said.


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