The proposed legislation to expand broadband in Ontario contains an amendment seeking to circumvent land-use planning processes
By Jackie Clark
Many residents of rural Ontario are eagerly awaiting improved broadband. However, some parts of the recently introduced Bill 257, Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021, have farm groups concerned.
“COVID-19 has only magnified the digital divide by changing the way we work, learn, access vital services, and connect with friends and family – leaving those without reliable broadband to fall further behind,” Sofia Dias-Sousa, spokesperson for the Ministry of Infrastructure, told Farms.com.
Ontario committed $2.8 billion to broadband infrastructure as part of the 2021 budget.
“This investment is complemented by the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021, which Ontario introduced on March 4. This legislation, if passed, will remove barriers to build better broadband infrastructure,” Sousa-Dias said.
However, the Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT) is bringing attention to schedule 3 of the legislation. Schedule 3 proposes to amend The Planning Act so that Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) are not required (and retroactively have never been required) to be consistent with provincial land use planning policies, so long as the land is outside the Greenbelt.
“OFT supports the Province’s decision to invest in reliable rural broadband service. However, OFT believes that Schedule 3 of the proposed Bill 257 will not work to advance rural broadband services but will negatively impact farmland and should be removed from the Bill,” the organization said in a submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on April 2.
MZOs have recently come to the attention of the agricultural community, who are concerned with the potential threat they pose to farmland. (Read more about MZOs in the January 2021 edition of Better Farming magazine).
“Our proposed changes will ensure that there are no unnecessary delays to priority projects,” Matt Carter, spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing told Farms.com. “Accelerating critical infrastructure, including broadband, and expediting strategic development projects with MZOs, outside of the Greenbelt, are vital to Ontario’s economic recovery and planned growth.”
MZOs “were initially introduced into provincial legislature to allow the Minister to make land use planning decisions over land that had no official plan, and in rare extenuating circumstances where there was provincially significant impact,” the OFT said in their submission. “OFT believes that MZOs should be consistent with the land use planning policies described in the Planning Act, and that the changes contained in Schedule 3 will jeopardize Ontario’s farmland.”