Land Use Planning – Overview

July 2021 – the province has posted a “Citizen’s Guide to Land Use Planning” – Learn about the rules and processes municipalities follow for community development and growth in Ontario, the role of the province, how the Planning Act works, about the Provincial Policy Statement, and how you can get involved in land use planning.

UPDATE September 2, 2021 – Crackdown on ‘flagrant disregard’ for Muskoka Lakes bylaws results in guilty plea for site alteration; Restoration of properties can add significant expense to the monetary penalties imposed by the courts, says mayor (

June 2021 – Local municipalities establish Official Plans and Bylaws to uphold community standards, environmental protection and safety. When faced with contraventions, enforcement becomes a commitment to uphold these standards, including dedicating the resources to see it through. See this video update from the Township of Muskoka Lakes, and related media release: “Following the issuance of Stop Work Orders, multiple property owners and their contractors have been charged under the Tree Preservation By-law and Site Alteration By-law.” More information is available from the Muskoka Lakes Association.

UPDATE September 8, 2021 – Bill 197 decision reaffirms right to participate in environmental decision-making (Environment Journal)

January 2021 – FOCA has written to the Province to express our concerns with Bill 197, and the increased use of Minister’ Zoning Orders.


March 9, 2021 – Doug Ford says he’s ‘proud’ of controversial MZOs to fast-track development (Toronto Star)
March 3, 2021 – How communities are fighting back against Doug Ford’s special zoning orders (National Observer)

December 2020 – Minister’s zoning orders (MZOs) are a provincial tool used infrequently to meet urgent Provincial priorities; however, Ontario has used 33 MZO’s since April 2020.

One instance includes an MZO to build a warehouse distribution centre and film studio on the ecologically sensitive Duffin’s Creek wetland in Pickering, ON. This example seems like particularly egregious overreach.

Another relates to 3 major developments near Lake Couchiching in the Township of Ramara which are potentially going ahead over the objection of local residents, and that fail to meet many Provincial policies.

FOCA is concerned the use of MZO’s overrides local concerns and conditions at the expense of good long term planning and sound environmental advice.

A proposal to enhance the Ministerial authority and allow for more MZOs is currently up for comment on the Environmental Registry of Ontario ERO No. 019-2811  until January 30, 2021

December 9, 2020 – Ford government using special provincial powers to help developer friends, NDP alleges (CBC)

November 25, 2020 – Massive Orbit project gets support for MZO request from Simcoe County  (Orillia Matters)

November 21, 2020 – MZOs now ‘a weapon of mass destruction in the planning world,’ critics say (Collingwood Today)

Bill 197 – FOCA is concerned that major changes to environmental oversight are underway, with the July 2020 introduction of the omnibus Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020. This Bill affects 43 different pieces of Provincial Legislation. Notable throughout the Bill is an increase in the discretion of the provincial Cabinet to, for instance, prescribe which projects are subject to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA).

FOCA believes that all environmentally significant undertakings should be reviewed through an appropriate and efficient EA process that is open, fair, and evidence-based. Further proposals to change the Planning Act would give Ministerial discretion to issue zoning orders, and to overrule decisions by municipal council and planning staff, even to the extent of a specific project and site details.

Further, Ontario’s Auditor General advised the government a week prior to the passage of Bill 197 of the potential contravention of the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). The EBR requires that any proposed amendments to legislation that could have a significant effect on the environment need to be made available to the public for comment on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (the ERO) for at least 30 days before being implemented. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has stated that he does not agree with the Auditor General’s assessment in respect of a possible contravention of the EBR.

Related media coverage and articles:

November 9, 2020 – A letter requesting amendments to the proposed list of projects that are subject to the Environmental Assessment Act (part of Bill 197), penned by Canadian Environmental Law Association and signed by FOCA and 54 other experts and organizations was submitted to the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

October 22, 2020 – Environmental Assessment is Not Red Tape – A Primer on Recent Changes in Ontario (CELA Webinar, 51 mins)

September 11, 2020 – COMMENT PERIOD IS OPEN, until November 10, 2020 – The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) is seeking input on a proposed list of projects which will be subject to the comprehensive environmental assessment requirements in the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA)

August 31, 2020 – Legal Action Launched Against Ontario’s Omnibus Bill 197. An application for judicial review  asks the Divisional Court to issue declaratory relief and other remedies in relation to the omnibus legislation, which overhauls the Environmental Assessment Act and amends other provincial laws.  (CELA)

August 10, 2020 – Groups sue Ford government for unlawful failure to consult public on Bill 197 (Ecojustice)

August 6, 2020 – Ontario introduces sweeping changes to environmental legislation (Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP)

August 19, 2020 – Concerns raised about Ontario’s environmental assessment changes (Lexis Nexis)

July 22, 2020 – Activists raise alarm as province passes environmental assessment redesign during pandemic (Cambridge Times) – “Groups including the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Ontario Nature and the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations argue the bill allows the province to ignore due process for environmental protection…”

July 13, 2020 – EA is Not Red Tape: The Case against Ontario Bill 197 (CELA blog)

June 17, 2020 – Doug Ford, and speeding up the planning process (TVO)

April, 2020 – FOCA’s partners at EcoVue Consulting have provided a one-page update for lake associations, regarding the state of municipal land use planning during the pandemic. Download the update (PDF, 1 page)

February 24, 2020 – Ex-Development lobbyist named to land-use tribunal (Globe and Mail)

November 2019 – FOCA’s comments on the proposed changes to the Aggregate Resources Act 

October  2019 – FOCA’s comments on the 2019 proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS)

September 2019 – The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is responsible for managing Ontario’s aggregate resources, through the Aggregate Resources Act (ARA). The Ministry has proposed changes to the ARA, to “reduce burdens for business while also ensuring the environment is protected.” These changes were posted as ERO 019-0556. The MNRF summary of proposed changes include:

  • strengthening the protection of water
  • asserting that the application of municipal zoning on Crown land does not apply to aggregate extraction and that duplicative municipal zoning by-laws will be eliminated
  • clarifying that appeals about licenses cannot be made relative to aggregate haulage routes
  • providing more flexibility for regulations to permit self-filing of routine site plan amendments

As a significant group of rural landowners, FOCA believes that the siting and operation of aggregate resources should be subject to open and transparent public discourse and this activity needs to adequately consider adjacent and proximate land uses, due to the potentially intrusive nature of these operations.

The Province posts information about the Aggregate Resources Act, here.

September 2019 – The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) contains policies to direct land use decisions involving matters of provincial interest, such as:

  • building strong/healthy communities;
  • ensuring wise use/management of resources; and
  • protecting public health/safety

The proposed 2019 PPS update includes changes to current policies in relation to natural heritage,  water, agriculture, mineral aggregate resources & hazards.
Details, supporting materials & links regarding the 2019 PPS Review was posted on the  Environmental Registry: see
• The deadline for public comments was October 21, 2019

What is the Planning Act?

The Planning Act sets out the ground rules for land use planning in Ontario, describes how land uses may be controlled, and who may control them.

How does the Planning Act work?

Municipal councils, landowners, developers, planners and the public play an important role in shaping a community. Community planning is aimed at identifying common community goals and balancing competing interests of the various parties.

The central activity in the planning of a community is the making of an official plan, a document which guides future development of an area in the best interest of the community as a whole.

Notes from the Executive Director of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI):

Two great quotes and an interesting set of facts on costs from the OPPI Chief Planner Roundtable on the importance of getting it right when it comes to planning and designing the public realm:

    • “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” Benjamin Franklin
    • “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Warren Buffett.

Importance of Investing in Quality – Average costs over 35 years for a building: Design 1.5%, Construction 16.5%, but Maintenance 82%.”

The Planning Act provides the basis for:

  • considering provincial interests, such as protecting and managing our natural resources.
  • establishing local planning administration including planning boards in northern Ontario.
  • preparing official plans and planning policies that will guide future development
  • establishing a streamlined planning process which emphasizes local autonomy in decision-making.
  • exempting official plans from approval.
  • regulating and controlling land uses through zoning by-laws and minor variances.
  • dividing land into separate lots for sale or development through a plan of subdivision or a land severance.
  • ensuring the rights of local citizens to be notified about planning proposals, to give their views to their municipal council, and to appeal decisions to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB is an independent administrative tribunal responsible for hearing appeals and deciding on a variety of contentious municipal matters providing that provincial appeals are to be made through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

What is the province’s role?

The province:

  • issues provincial policy statements under the Planning Act
  • promotes provincial interests, such as protecting farmland, natural resources and the environment
  • provides one-window planning service to municipalities through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the primary provincial contact for advice and information on land use planning issues
  • gives advice to municipalities and the public on land use planning issues
  • administers local planning controls and gives the approval where required

What is the role of municipalities?

The local municipality:

  • makes local planning decisions that will determine the future of communities
  • prepares planning documents, such as: an official plan, which sets out the municipality’s general planning goals and policies that will guide future land use, and zoning by-laws, which set the rules and regulations that control development as it occurs.

The Planning Act also gives planning boards in northern Ontario the power to pass zoning by-laws for unorganized territory within their planning areas.

The Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) serves as a guide for municipalities in the creation of their Official Plans and other planning tools, the key working documents of a community, by directing that cultural and environmentally sensitive features are protected.

BUTTON asterixYour municipal council must give you as much information as possible when preparing its official plan. And before it adopts the plan, council must hold at least one public meeting where you can give your opinion. It is up to council to decide the best way to let people know about the meeting, but notice must be given at least 20 days ahead of time, usually through local newspapers or by mail.

The act encourages early upfront involvement and the use of mediation techniques to resolve conflict. Make sure you make your views known early in the planning process. If you don’t, this may mean that the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) could dismiss an appeal you may make later on, without holding a hearing.

The Planning Act requires a similar procedure for changes to the official plan, for zoning by-laws and plans of sub-division.

How can you get involved?

magnifying glassYou can be an important part of the land use planning process by keeping informed about what’s going on in your community and by taking part in public meetings.

With your input, the municipal council will be able to make better decisions that affect your future. So if you are concerned about all or any part of a planning proposal or policy change, you should:

  • find out as much as possible about the proposal
  • think about how it will affect you
  • talk to your neighbours about it
  • go to public meetings and information sessions and let council know what you think
  • write to your council member or the municipal clerk about your views
  • work with council and the municipal staff to resolve your concerns

Finally, if you are not happy with council’s decisions on planning issues, you may appeal to the LPAT (formerly OMB) for a public hearing.

Public participation is an important part of land use planning. There have been efforts undertaken related to this process, and to protect individuals who want to speak up against “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP). Learn more about Ontario’s anti-SLAPP efforts here.

Additional Resources:

Land Use Planning Factsheet

Land Use Planning News and Media

Planning work around the waterfront? Download these handy resources about WHO TO CONTACT for permission:

in the Kawarthas > Best First Call Sheet (PDF, 2 pages; Landland Alliance)

in the Rideau watershed Who to Call (PDF, 2 pages; RVCA & CRCA)

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