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Auditor General says province using frequent Minister's Zoning Orders to fast-track development

44 such orders were issued between March 2019 and March 2021
File photo of Queen's Park (James Tumelty/CityNews)

Ontario's auditor general said the government uses a previously little-used land-planning tool to fast-track development and circumvent normal planning processes.

Bonnie Lysyk's audit reported that the government issued 44 Minister's Zoning Orders between March 2019 and March 2021. It also found that 17 of the 44 orders were given to the same seven development groups or companies.

However, in the past, roughly one was issued per year.

"We are in the middle of a housing crisis in this province, and the MZO tool, I think, is a very good tool that allows for not-for-profit housing to be built, long term care job creation. This is a tool that our government believes in." Minister Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said.

Lysyk says MZOs were initially intended to be issued in special circumstances. However, the government is using them as an aid to overcome potential barriers and delays to development.

"Given the frequency that these are happening. It's time to sit back and say what we should put in place so that there is real clarity for everybody that is involved for when an MZO is used."

While there are no established criteria on how the minister assesses these requests, Lysyk said it is hard to know what factors he considered when making decisions.

The auditor noted that the government also recently expanded its power to override local authority, with increased capabilities for MZOs as part of COVID-19 economic recovery legislation.

- With files from The Canadian Press

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