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Planning for Health
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Planning for Health

Natural environment

A healthy natural environment is important for the overall health of the community. Our health benefits from access to clean air and water, and access to parks, waterfront and nature for recreation and physical activity. Access to green space reduces several chronic diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety and depression. The natural environment also plays a role in climate change mitigation and resiliency by reducing the likelihood of flooding, improving air quality and providing shade, all of which have health co-benefits. As this section demonstrates, various governmental bodies are involved in ensuring a healthy natural environment through different policies.
At the provincial level, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks contributes to the development of provincial plans to protect the Greenbelt, led by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Currently, three such plans exist in Ontario: the Greenbelt Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan, and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. The Greenbelt works in conjunction with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, to direct growth and provide protection to agricultural land, as well as ecological and hydrological features.

Source Water Protection Plans

On the regional scale, the Province requires source water protection plans. After the Walkerton tragedy in 2000, where the contamination of drinking water with E. coli killed six people, the Ontario government passed the Clean Water Act (2006), with the aim of taking a preventative approach to protecting ground and surface water sources. Nineteen watershed-based source protection committees have been set up across the province, with membership from municipalities, public agencies, business and indigenous groups. Representatives from local public health units sit on these committees in a non-voting, advisory capacity. Together, these committees have developed 38 local source protection plans which identify drinking water sources and develop strategies to mitigate threats, such as from agriculture, new development, resource extraction, or infrastructure projects. These plans focus on municipal drinking water sources, however, and do not provide protection for private wells – the source of drinking water for an estimated 1.6 million Ontarians.[1]

Elective Plans & Guidelines

Municipalities may also choose to create various other environmental plans to guide municipal activities. These plans can cover many topics that are important to healthy built environments including equitable access to parks and waterfront, urban agriculture, the location of street trees, and emissions reduction. Examples include a Parks and Greenspace Strategy, a Climate Change Action Plan, and an Urban Forest Management Plan. The process of developing these plans generally includes consultation.


[1] Ontario Auditor General. (2016). Source water protection. In Ontario Auditor General Report (pp. 156–167). Toronto, ON: Office of the Auditor General of Ontario. Retrieved from

Environmental Assessments

Environmental Assessments (EAs) are intended to ensure that environmental effects are considered before a public project begins. Although they operate at the level of specific projects, the project proponent could be a municipality, a provincial ministry or a public body such as a conservation authority or Metrolinx. Types of projects requiring EAs include: roads and highways, transit, waste management, water and waste water, and flood protection.

There are two types of EAs: individual and streamlined. Individual EAs are required for large-scale, complex projects that have potentially significant environmental impacts. They require approval from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. Streamlined EAs are intended for routine projects that have predictable and manageable environmental effects. The process is a self-assessment that aids in decision-making. It does not require ministerial approval, as long as the approved assessment process is followed and no request is made for a more in-depth assessment (called a Part II Order). Streamlined EAs can be used for certain electricity, waste management and transit projects, as well as any project which falls under a Class EA. For a Class EAs, an assessment process has been pre-approved for a set of similar, routine projects. Currently, an environmental assessment process has been approved for 11 classes of projects in Ontario, including GO Transit, municipal infrastructure (roads, sewage, water), provincial highways, and public works. Regardless of the type (individual, streamlined, class), EAs always involve opportunities for input from the public, other government bodies and indigenous communities.

Green Development Standards

A growing number of Ontario municipalities have implemented Green Development Standards (GDS). The authority to do so comes from the Planning Act, which enables municipalities to require development projects to include exterior sustainable design elements as part of the site plan approval process. In order to implement these standards, the municipality must include enabling language in their Official Plan, which requires an Official Plan amendment (see the Town of Richmond Hill’s Official Plan as an example).

Municipalities have taken a variety of approaches with their standards, but generally the goals include improving air quality, reducing the urban heat island effect, reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing storm water runoff and water consumption, and protecting and enhancing natural features. Example standards include requiring a certain percentage of the site’s exterior surface area to be pervious, to be shaded, or to have vegetation, requiring a certain number of bike parking spaces per unit, and requiring pedestrian-scaled lighting (see the Toronto Green Standard).

Meeting the standards may be mandatory, voluntary or incentivized, depending on the municipality. Incentives take the form of reductions in the development charges paid to the municipality, due to the fact that the development is less taxing on stormwater and other municipal systems. Some municipalities have created a tiered system, where the first tier is mandatory, and additional tiers are voluntary and incentivized.

Conservation Authority Review

Conservation Authorities are local watershed management agencies that protect and manage impacts on water and other natural resources. Thirty-one Conservation Authorities operate in southern Ontario, and five in northern Ontario, covering 95% of Ontario’s population. Under Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act (2006), any development proposed in a river or stream valley, along the shoreline of a lake, on hazardous land, or near watercourses or wetlands may require approval from the local Conservation Authority, to ensure that the project will not interfere with flood management or conservation efforts. This approval process appears to be internal, with no opportunity for external input or review.
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