Manitoulin municipalities no longer require Official Plan change approvals

MANITOULIN – The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) has exempted all townships on Manitoulin Island from needing the ministry’s approval before making amendments to their Official Plans, except for five- and 10-year updates to those plans which are made under a different section of the Planning Act.

“The ministry sees municipalities as responsible and accountable levels of government and where they have demonstrated the ability to deliver land use planning in accordance with provincial requirements and objectives, the ministry can empower them to make decisions with less provincial oversight,” said Praveen Senthinathan, spokesperson for MMAH, in an email to The Expositor.

The province issued Ontario Regulation 332/20, Exemption from Approval (Official Plan Amendments), on June 30, expanding the list of communities that do not have to apply to MMAH for Official Plan amendments except for the five- and 10-year major updates to the plans.

Previously, the only Island municipality on the list was the Northeast Town, which received its exemption effective July 1, 2017.

Island townships exempted from ministry pre-approval as of July 1, 2020 include Assiginack, Billings, Burpee and Mills, Central Manitoulin, Tehkummah, Gordon/Barrie Island and Gore Bay, as well as Cockburn Island.

Although Manitoulin municipalities no longer have to receive approval to their plan amendments, they must still follow certain ministry directives when making such changes.

Copies of the proposed changes must be sent to MMAH during the consultation phase, the municipality is required to follow the same procedures of public notification and consultation and provide documentation of this process to the ministry, and approved changes must also be forwarded to MMAH.

The upshot of this, stated Mr. Senthinathan, is a more efficient local land use planning and development process. 

“The province continues to set provincial planning policy, approve new Official Plans and comprehensive updates, and provide strategic advisory services for municipalities. All land use planning decisions, regardless of where approval authority rests, must comply with the requirements of the Planning Act and be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and environmental policies,” he wrote.

The ministry notified townships of the proposed exemption in November 2019 and posted it to its regulatory registry for a 45-day public comment period. It received no concerns, said Mr. Senthinathan.

The exemptions were a surprise to the Manitoulin Planning Board, which was not aware of the regulatory change. However, the exemptions apply to specific individual municipalities within planning boards, rather than the planning boards themselves.

Mr. Senthinathan acknowledged the communications were not targeted to the planning board but said the ministry would work with it to ensure it is informed about the impacts of the change.

“The ministry is following up with the exempted municipalities to answer any further questions about their new authorities and processes, and to establish dates for the ministry to provide associated training and capacity building. The associated planning boards will be included in this communication and invited to participate in the training sessions,” he stated.

An email sent to an Island municipality on July 15, which was shared with The Expositor, states that staff from a MMAH’s Municipal Services Office in Sudbury would contact Island townships to share information, run formal education sessions on the changes and work with the municipalities to address their training needs.