QUEEN’S PARK – Yet again, Doug Ford has granted a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) to benefit top Conservative donor and political ally Mario Cortellucci, a prominent developer who has benefited from at least five Ford MZOs to date. Ford has repeatedly used MZOs to benefit private developers with ties to PC Party.
“Once again we’re seeing Ford disregard sustainable planning principles, public consultation and environmental protection rules to ram through projects that line the pockets of his wealthy developer friends,” said Jeff Burch, NDP critic for Municipal Affairs. “The people who live in these communities and all Ontarians will pay the price if wetlands and farmlands are paved over and infrastructure costs skyrocket. They deserve better than a premier who gives his friends whatever they ask for, no matter what it costs the rest of us.”
The MZO, issued July 30, enables The Orbit, a development proposal by the Cortellucci-owned Cortel Group to build a massive community of 150,000 residents on farmland within Innisfil, effectively dropping a new city the size of Barrie into a rural community of fewer than 40,000 people.
To push this project ahead, the Ford government has used a new power, enabled last year under its controversial omnibus Bill 229, that allows Ford to force conservation authorities to approve environmentally-destructive development permits that they might otherwise oppose. At the time, the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) warned that Bill 229 would threaten people, property and the environment: “One of our main concerns is that we’ll be forced into approving permits that may cause flooding and erosion and jeopardize human health and safety,” said LSRCA CAO Mike Walters.
“Ford is granting this MZO on environmentally-sensitive land, shutting down community opposition before it starts, giving another insider and donor whatever he wants, no matter what it costs the rest of us,” said Burch. “There is no way to justify bypassing the standard environmental planning process for a development proposal of this scale. It’s clear this is yet another lucrative gift from Ford to well-connected PC insiders.”
Last month, in response to a letter from Burch, Ontario’s Auditor General confirmed she is conducting a Value-For-Money audit of the Ford government’s land use planning and growth policies.
- On July 30 2021, the Ford government issued a Minister’s Zoning Order to enable the Cortel Group’s controversial Orbit development proposal in Innisfil. The development would drop a new city of 150,000 residents into a rural town of fewer than 40,000, paving over prime farmland and natural heritage within the sensitive Lake Simcoe watershed, with no clarity on water, sewage or other infrastructure requirements for the massive development.
- The Cortel Group is run by the powerful PC donor Mario Cortellucci. The Cortellucci family has close ties to Doug Ford and has already benefitted from at least four previous Minister’s Zoning Orders, as a recent Toronto Star investigation points out.
- MZOs allow developments to bypass environmental protections, public consultations and professional planning studies that are otherwise required before such proposals can be approved. The Ford government has issued 53 MZOs while in office, and 48 during the pandemic alone. In contrast, the previous Liberal government issued 18 MZOs during its entire 15 years in power. An NDP analysis from December 2020 found that most of these MZOs benefit developers with ties to Doug Ford or the PC Party. The NDP has asked the legislature’s Committee on General Government to conduct a review of all MZOs.
- A related proposal from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, posted to the Environmental Registry on August 6, would force the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to approve a development permit for the Orbit proposal within 45 days of receiving an application, and approve an undisclosed offset scheme to compensate for the development’s environmental damage within 90 days, while allowing development to proceed even before the offset agreement is signed. The proposal does not disclose what environmental damage the development will cause
- The Ford government gave itself the power to force conservation authorities to approve environmentally-destructive developments under Schedule 6 of Bill 229. Last December, David Crombie and the rest of the Greenbelt Council resigned en masse in protest of this legislative change. This is the second time the Ford government has used this controversial new power, with the first being a directive forcing the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to approve a permit to destroy the Duffins Creek provincially significant wetland.