Friday, March 29, 2013

Changes to the Ontario Municipal Board on the Way?

A private members bill that would exempt Toronto from the Ontario Municipal Board’s oversight passed second reading earlier this month in the Ontario Legislature.

Bill 20 (Respect for Municipalities-city of Toronto, 2013) now goes off to the Finance Committee for more study.

Abolish the OMB?


Reform it? 

That’s for sure.

However, it is not just the City of Toronto that needs the change.  
Apparently the City of Toronto does such a good job of planning they don’t need the OMB.  If it was gone, they would set up their own appeals process. 

Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina) who championed the bill pointed out correctly that the 25 OMB members are “unelected and unaccountable.” 
In the debate, a paper presented at the Canadian Political Science Association conference in 2009 was cited by Marchese.  The paper looked at OMB rulings from 2000 to 2006. When the developers were up against the City of Toronto developers won nearly 2/3 (64%) of the time.

“You get the picture; right?  It’s the people with money who tend to win. It’s just the way the system works. It’s not a level playing field. It can never be a level playing field, argued Marchese.”

In fact, New Democrat member and former mayor Michael Prue (East York) went even further.

“I recall the chair of the Ontario Municipal Board, before a committee of this Legislature, coming in and brazenly stating that—she was asked, “What is your mandate?” She stated, “My mandate is to facilitate the development industry in this province,” Prue recalled.

There were some amendments to the Planning Act several years ago which said the Board had to have regard to municipal decisions and plans.

“Well, in 2009, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled that “have regard to” basically means nothing. The OMB only has to provide minimal deference to the municipality,” the court ruled—“only minimal deference.” It means, “Yes, we heard you, but no, we’re not going to listen to you,” continued the Trinity Spadina MPP.”

Others in the debate pointed out that most provinces don’t have the equivalent of an OMB.

But if you got rid of it and other cities followed suit would challenges end up in court?
Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi:

“Courts are more expensive, take a longer time, and there is no expertise.”

Naqvi went on to say, as others have, that the status quo does not work.

“We need to reform the OMB,” said the Ottawa representative.

His reform would incorporate four aspects.

1. Communities need to develop community design plans and then incorporate them into their Official Plan.  They are then enforceable and not just aspirational.

2. The appeal mechanism should be changed to one that is more of a process where decisions can only be overturned if there is “an egregious error council has made.”

3. Mandatory mediation should be part of the OMB.

4. Legislation is needed that will prevent litigation against public participation so that developers are not using tools to suppress communities.

Minister of Transportation Glen Murray, a former mayor, spoke in support: 

“I have to tell you, having sat through OMB hearings; it is a machine for consultants to make money. You bill $500 an hour. Lawyers love it. Planners love it. Architects love it. No one makes more money.”

Here is hoping when this bill gets to the Finance Committee that they will have a far ranging discussion on reforming the OMB and not just addressing Toronto’s concerns.

You can read the bill at

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My Last Word on Rational Transit Fares

Picking up from my last post I want to be clear that I’m not expecting any one municipality to go it alone on implementing funding for a restructured transit and transportation system.

Presumably Metrolinx is taking the lead on this.  Progress is painfully slow.

But municipalities ought to make some effort to, as the Mayor of Burlington said recently, find a rational way to set transit rates.

On some levels the City of Burlington has made an effort to develop a rational policy.  At least they have to the extent they’ve gone and found expertise to help them plan.

Take a look at the 1998 Transit White Paper informed by IBI consultants; lots to say in this report re establishing a fare structure.

Or the 2006-15 Transit Service Review authored by another consultant (iTrans) in 2006.  It ran 189 pages and right there on pages 67 through 71 there is a rational plan to establish fares.

Important aspects of these reports were ignored by Council and yet another consultant was hired in 2011.  At that time I was told by a Councillor that Dilllon consultants weren’t like the previous two consultants. No siree.  They would bring a business-like approach and not simply respond to a public who just keep demanding more service that really isn’t affordable.

Well, Dillon did a fair bit of work on The Route Ahead.  But they didn’t finish the job.   Perhaps their plan for rational fare structure wasn’t what Councillors wanted either.

 Do you see a pattern here?

 Anyway, here is the first public meeting last year where staff had great difficulty bringing Dillon’s report forward without Dillon or the report being present.  Former Mayor Walter Mulkewich asks some good questions in the video.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Let’s Get the Price Right

Way back in June 2008 I wrote about a report that had just come out written by Trent University Professor Harry Kitchen.

This report was called Financing Public Transit and Transportation in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton: Future Initiatives.
We need an effective and efficient public transit and transportation system for economic and environmental reasons. An important aspect of what must be done is setting correct prices.

Kitchen’s argument was this:

“A more efficient and effective transportation system can only be achieved if users (businesses, individuals and governments) pay for the infrastructure and operational cost of services it provides – building, maintenance and repairs plus environmental damages."
He set out some principles.
For example, those who benefit from local infrastructure and the services it provides should pay for it. (This is called the benefits based model.)

According to Kitchen, services such as public transit and highways “have a mix of private and public good characteristics” and, therefore, financing should be based on the theory of “second best.”

Principles of efficiency and fairness would suggest that car and truck drivers pay a charge that reflects the full cost (capital, operating plus congestion and environmental costs).

But car and truck drivers pay nothing to local governments for each trip taken while transit users are charged when they travel.

This logic justifies some subsidization of public transit but also provides rationale for the implementation of road charges that are designed to control road use.

So while subsidizing public transit makes sense Kitchen says that determining the exact subsidy (and what you’ll pay at the farebox) is a “tricky business” that really has more to do with politics than actual costs.

But it shouldn’t be that way.

If there was a level playing field “public transit might not require a subsidy to be competitive: certainly it is unlikely that it would require the size of subsidy it often gets.”

 In the report Kitchen explored seven different ways to help fund the restructured GTAH transit and transportation system.

1. Dedicated Municipal Fuel Tax
2. Tolls and Congestion Charges

3. Tax on Non residential Parking Spaces
4. Vehicle Registration Charges

5. Drivers License Charges

6. High Occupancy Toll Lanes

Apparently HOV lanes in the U.S. are not meeting their objectives. So in some cases these lanes are being turned into High Occupancy Toll Lanes where you can pay for the pleasure of getting a faster ride

 7. Value Capture Levies
If a property’s value is enhanced through spending on public infrastructure and zoning decisions it could be appropriate to capture some of the gains that the private sector has realized.

A sequel to this report came out earlier this year.  You can find it at

Tomorrow I’ll come back to the proposed Burlington fare increase.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Burlington Transit – Fares Going up – Service Going Down.

In a previous posting I tried to find humour in the City of Burlington’s idea about raising transit rates.

The Toronto Star, Canada’s most widely read paper, quoted Burlington’s Mayor as saying that there should be a clear rationale to determining fares.

But that isn’t happening and a proposed 8% hike is  against the advice of staff and totally arbitrary coming out of the environmentally/transit challenged head of some Burlington Councillor.  So at the end of the day I guess raising rates really isn’t funny.

But now that Burlington’s transit planning is becoming so well known with a story in the Star of all things I thought a little history might help.

Last year we put this video together to show how badly resourced Burlington Transit is compared to other communities.

I looked at it today. While the data is a year old it reflects the historical trend. And the acting is terrific.

The Mayor of Burlington Made me Smile Today

 Does the Globe and Mail still have that “Morning Smile” on the front page?

Here is today’s knee slapper from Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring.
Referring to a steep increase in transit fares that his council will be considering on Monday night Goldring said:
They should not be done on an ad hoc basis.  There should be some clear rationale.”

OK, I sense you are not rolling in the aisles on this one.  And how good is a joke if you have to explain it, right?   But here goes.

Well, why it made me laugh is that the just a little over a year ago the mayor had a rationale in his hands.  A report from Dillon Consultants entitled  The Route Ahead: Burlington Transit Master Plan 2012 -2021 ran  nearly two hundred pages and laid out a busload of rationales and all kinds of strategies for Burlington Transit including pricing strategies.
Council didn’t like what was in that report (which by the way cost over $100,000).  It never was released for public comment.
Instead Council has headed off on its own by cutting routes and shifting gas tax dollars away from transit.
Now the basis for all transit decisions is truly ad hoc with absolutely no clear rationale for what is being done.  
Actually it really isn’t that funny is it?   

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Government Closest to the People?

The government that is closest to the people. 

That’s what they call local government.  At least that is what people in local government (politicians and senior bureaucrats) say about their work. I used to say such things as well while serving as a municipal politician 1991-97 and then again in 2006.  Now I worry that I might have been spreading false news.

Two cases in point came across my computer screen today.

First, there’s the situation of John Gauvin in Hamilton.  Read his story from the Bay Area Observer ( and tell me that his local government is working for him.

Then closer to home (my former home) we can observe City of Burlington Councillor’s, heads firmly planted in the sand,  ready to raise transit fares by 8% on Monday night.

Now there really isn’t anything wrong with raising fares, fees or charges. It is just when you raise the price on something it is good business to be improving or at least maintaining the quality of the product.  This is not the case in Burlington though.  

Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit, better known as BFast, advocates for better transit in Burlington.  I used to be involved with them before  I got out of town.

In a media release they note that the Budget submission from staff to Council included no fare increase in the short-term, but proposed a process for adjusting fares. (

Then council, in their wisdom as they say, came out with what appears to be an arbitrary increase.

Bfast says Council justifies the fare increase based on improved services.  That’s the usual line from Council.

But Council is wrong.  As Bfast notes:

“Transit is still under-capitalized, and will continue to suffer from the $500,000 decrease in transit's share of the Gas Tax money made by City Council one year ago.

Recently Bfast asked for the City to restore transit's share of the Gas Tax funding.  They weren’t successful.

“The reality is that net transit spending by the City has decreased,” BFast claims correctly.

I used to go on about this on a blog I retired.   Public consultation demonstrated that residents wanted and needed better transit; so did business and so does our environment. Council wouldn’t listen. 

In I’d blame councillors like the one who got elected mainly to get the bus off his street and others who could be best described as environmental neanderthals.

But the mayor needs to wear this. 

I had a coffee with him when he was my newly elected Councillor in 2007.  He explained to me then that Burlington couldn’t support good public transit.

I disagreed with him.

But as the mayor of the government closest to the people I guess he was right.
Too bad.