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