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Vaccines, MZOs and superhighways


Let’s start with a quick update on last week’s Vaccination e-blast.

Things are moving so fast, information can get out of date in an hour! Since we talked, the new website vaccineTO.ca has launched. When you enter your postal code, you’ll find out how many clinics in your area are accepting registrations for vaccine appointments.

VaccineTO.ca is the common website for registering vaccine appointments, but I’m hearing mixed reviews from residents about the system. There's still some uncertainty as to how things will look once the provincial system launches March 15 for registering and booking appointments. My office will post the latest updates regularly, and you can always contact us if you have questions about the registration process.

I wouldn’t worry about this media obsession with the “honour system", the sense many outside of the vaccination priority groups are queue-jumping to get their jabs. While you are required to pre-register online or by phone, the very next step is a callback from the clinic or pharmacy where your information is confirmed, and you are screened and provided an appointment time. You are screened again when you arrive at the clinic for the vaccination.

The important thing to remember is the delivery system is tweaked and improved daily to ensure no dose goes to waste. Each vaccine administered, whether into your arm or the person's ahead of you, is making us all safer.

An explanation by the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy on how the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines work

How MZOs undermine local democracy While vaccinations grab all of the headlines, MZOs are a big news story in their own right. MZO stands for Ministerial Zoning Order, a special legislative tool which poses a real threat to your right to provide feedback on matters of the environment and urban design. Let’s catch up.

A MZO is a provincial edict allowing the Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (currently Steve Clark) to approve land zoning decisions, bypassing the regular planning process.

The local planning process for any Ontario Municipality is less than ideal. Developers have an easy path towards appeals before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal [LPAT]. What redeems local planning is the understanding the community does have a voice; public input is baked into the final decision, even if we must work within the strict confines of provincial planning legislation. A community can even request an official hearing status to have a voice in the event of an LPAT appeal. MZOs however remove these citizen rights, and sometimes even your Councillor’s rights.

MZOs are not new but until recently were sparingly used, usually for needs such as urgent, affordable housing. The key is to use them to meet policy needs. The current Provincial government has grown quite fond of using them to bypass policy.

The Ford government claims a MZO is applied only if a local municipal government requests one. That is not always the case. Even so, a council asking for an MZO will not provide residents with much comfort. Ask yourself why a democratically elected body would want to wipe out their residents’ voice in favour of private sector development.

Councils can get bedazzled by development proposals promising economic opportunity and job creation, especially in challenging times like these. However real these needs are, they must be balanced against proper planning principles, protection of our environment and Heritage sites, and most importantly, hearing the voices of residents. MZOs were applied recently to override all of these.

We learned Wednesday morning, environmentally significant wetland near the Pickering lakefront will reportedly be sacrificed via an MZO for a large Amazon ‘fulfillment’ centre - exactly what the Toronto Region Conservation Board (TRCA) had feared.

As a member of the TRCA Board, I moved a motion communicating to the province our opposition to this use, even though Pickering Town Council has already requested an MZO to get the project going. While community groups in Pickering strongly object to the mega-warehouse, recent provincial legislation undermining the role of conservation authorities overrides TRCA's right to refuse development, even on protected wetlands.

Closer to home, work crews back in January began tearing down the old Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company buildings located at 153-185 Eastern Ave, months after the Ford Government issued an MZO to sidestep the local planning process.

Here, Toronto City Council had not requested an MZO. The Province nonetheless intended to go ahead with the planned development of high-rise residential towers on three provincially owned sites, including 153-185 Eastern Avenue. Our City Solicitor and her team succeeded in stopping the Province’s move to demolish the heritage foundry buildings on Eastern Ave - for now.

Construction crews carry demolition work at the Dominion Wheel and Foundries Company site in January

In my view every Torontonian needs to support those downtown residents calling for the revocation of the MZO issued for the Foundries site. Residents simply want to take back their rights to the local planning process. There will be plenty of room for affordable housing and the preservation of a Heritage building if the community and city planners can just get their right to plan together. The battle to stop another superhighway This week, Toronto Council joined the chorus of GTA municipalities trying to put the brakes on Provincial plans for a new highway, Hwy. 413 between running through GTA municipalities like Brampton and Vaughan and connecting Hwy. 400 with the 401 and 407 highway interchange.

The simple reason to oppose the project: it is very clearly an error-correction. When the Mike Harris government sold the brand new Hwy. 407 in 1999, the province lost control of toll rates and doomed that roadway to underuse, especially by large trucks unwilling to pay massive daily costs. Harris sold the 407 for $3.1 billion. It is now a private asset worth $30 billion. To build another super highway in its immediate vicinity will cost an early estimated $10 billion. The cost to simply negotiate a publicly funded truck-and logistics-rate to make the highway more affordable? Unknown and never tried. There is another very important reason to oppose the development of Hwy. 413 (as Anthony Perruzza, Toronto Councillor and my fellow TRCA member, summed it up at Council this week): our "endless" water supply.

Our source waters, ground waters, all of our river courses to the lakefront, make up the perfect place to meet, settle, build and generate wealth - as long as we protect those systems. Our forefathers knew this, the First Nations peoples who were here long before knew this.

A great deal went into protecting our natural water systems when the Greenbelt was designated and locked down. The plans for Hwy. 413 threaten it, first through its construction and secondly through surrounding development which this Provincial government has clearly demonstrated it would use MZOs to approve.

This was clear to residents in the west end immediately. In Peel and York regions, they have been very loud about their opposition. Perhaps this is why we see the Premier and some formerly supportive mayors pumping the brakes on Hwy. 413. Stay tuned.

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