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Legal Guide


The legislative approach taken by the majority of the provinces has been to deal with planning in a separate act or regulation. Power to enact regulations or zoning by-laws is established in the planning statutes of all provinces except Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, where it is located in the general municipal enactment. In British Columbia, such powers can also be found in the Vancouver Charter and the Community Charter. The planning instruments, the procedure for their creation and enforcement, and the agencies instituted to administer policy and procedures, vary across the provinces. However, the vast majority of planning statutes are similar in that they provide for community planning and management over the subdivision and development of land.

In most provinces, implementation of a plan is in part carried out through zoning regulations, which stipulate the ways in which the land included in the plan may or may not be used. Another way of effecting a plan is through development control, whereby approval must be procured from the planning official before any development proposal can progress. Subdivision control is yet another method of ensuring that landowners proposing to subdivide and sell lots of land follow the plan.

Authority

Planning is not purely a municipal function. The provincial government plays an important role in ensuring that municipalities make proper plans. For local policies to remain in line with central government policies, some provincial control is necessary. The degree and practices of central supervision vary across the provinces, but provincial government policy is often considered in the formulation of local planning decisions.

In Ontario, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has broad supervisory jurisdiction in the area of planning, although many of its powers under the Planning Act have been delegated to municipalities. In British Columbia and Alberta, planning has been left to the local authorities with very little interference from the province. Except for specific aspects of official settlement plans, provincial approval of plans is not required. In Quebec, the provincial government does not play a material role, as most planning controls are delegated to the municipal and regional authorities.

Legislation in all provinces, with the exception of British Columbia, Newfoundland and Quebec, has created a special agency to advise on planning issues.

Land use approvals may also be required from federal/provincial agencies (such as the National Energy Board, or the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board) where pipeline or oil and gas projects are being contemplated.

Official plan

Most of the provinces establish planning areas for which planning commissions or boards are created to prepare a plan known as an “official plan” is basically a proposal for controlling the use of land, and typically involves a public process where input is received before the plan is approved. This plan must be proposed to the local municipal council(s) for approval. A plan must be approved by a provincial authority or must at least have regard to provincial planning policy. Any person affected by such a plan may formally object to it, and any amendments to the plan must go through the same approval process as the comprehensive official plan. The legislative approach common to most of the provinces is to provide for regional, district and local plans. In Quebec, the official plan is prepared at the regional level. In Alberta, these “statutory plans”, as they are referred to, are prepared by municipal or regional authorities, and do not require consent of any provincial authority to become law.

Zoning

In the majority of provinces, the official plan must be implemented through a zoning by-law before it becomes effective in the control of development. Zoning is a means by which local governments regulate the use of property. Specifically, zoning involves the division of a municipality into areas, and in each area either prohibiting certain uses and allowing others, or permitting the uses which may be carried on to the exclusion of all others. Zoning control allows local governments to regulate the use of land, and the erection of buildings and other structures. The zoning by-laws must be consistent with, or conform to, the land use planning vision expressed in the official plan. In Alberta, a zoning by-law should be consistent with the municipality’s municipal development plan. In Quebec, local municipalities enact planning by-laws and a

planning program is in place. In Ontario and British Columbia, municipalities can enact zoning by-laws without an official plan being in place. However, if an official plan exists, the by-laws must adhere to it. 

Subdivision/sale of land

Both provincial and local level authorities have vast powers to control the subdivision of land. In the majority of provinces, provincial authorities work in tandem with local authorities to determine the necessity for additional roads, buildings, school sites and recreational facilities, and such matters will be addressed by the authorities as part of the subdivision approval process. In some provinces, like Quebec and Alberta, land subdivision is almost exclusively a job for local authorities.

Redevelopment

Both new development and redevelopment must be planned. Express provisions have been incorporated into Ontario’s Planning Act, authorizing redevelopment strategies and methods of fulfilling them. Generally, redevelopment in Canada is undertaken by private developers. Before a local authority can designate an area for redevelopment, it must first prepare a plan and have a public hearing to discuss the delineation of the area and the fitness of the plan. The redevelopment plan must also be in line with any official plan of the municipality or regional authority. In Alberta, redevelopment plans, along with area structure plans and municipal development plans comprise the statutory plans meditated by provincial statutes.

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