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OMB Reform – the time has come

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti opens the Municipal Summit on OMB Reform
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti opens the Municipal Summit on OMB Reform

Municipalities across Ontario are asking the province to reform the Ontario Municipal Board, and severely limit its power over local planning decisions. More than 80 municipal councils have passed resolutions seeking OMB reform, including Toronto, Markham, Guelph, Newmarket, York Region, and Oakville.

The resolution began in Aurora and asks the province to “limit the jurisdiction of the OMB to questions of law or process” and to “require the OMB to uphold any planning decisions of Municipal Councils unless they are contrary to the processes and rules set out in legislation.” A similar resolution passed by Oakville council (which I think is stronger) asks the province to: exclude the board from hearing appeals of applications for amendments to provincially approved official plans; require the OMB to show deference to the decisions of local councils subject only to the test of reasonableness; and require the board, as an appellate body, to implement the concept of precedent in its decisions.

The province has said it will look into OMB reform this year.

In May, I joined over 100 municipal representatives (the only one from Burlington) at a Municipal Summit on OMB Reform. The consensus from the Summit was to request that the province forbid any appeals to the OMB of local Official Plans that have already been approved by the Province (first part of the Oakville Resolution on OMB reform). This would dramatically reduce the number of appeals, save time and money, and free up time for the OMB to deal with other matters within its jurisdiction in a timely fashion.

Another recommendation arising from the Summit was to remove appeals to the OMB for Committee of Adjustment decisions on minor variances, and instead direct local councils to create an appeal body or let the local city council be the final appeal body (which would be more time and cost effective).

These and other recommendations from the Summit will be forwarded to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the province. A representative from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario attended the summit, and AMO will discuss OMB reform at its annual conference in August.

A Summit Summary of notes from the panel discussions and breakout sessions is being prepared, and will be posted on ward2news.ca along with a recording of the session, once available.

Read Inside Halton article on OMB Reform: Burlington could join municipalities calling for OMB reform
My Take: I wholeheartedly support reform, and wouldn’t miss the OMB if it were abolished. The OMB has become, in effect, the local planning departments for municipalities, creating duplication of services, overriding decisions of locally elected councils by an unelected tribunal, and costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars to defend Official Plans that have already been approved by the province and conform to growth requirements. These costs, borne both by municipalities and the development industry, are built into taxes and into the cost of housing. OMB-driven municipal planning is expensive, wasteful, time-consuming and unaccountable, and must change.

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.

13 Comments

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  1. Absolutely agree! Abolishing the OMB should be the altimate goal; not just reforming it.
    But even that, it should be just the beginning of a larger reform which applies not only to the Province of Ontario.

    Any Urban Plan of any scale (for a City/Region) must be a restrictive law! not a bargaining tool for developers and municipalities through constant rezoning processes for almost every piece of land.

    Considering every Urban Plan as a professional and knowledgeable planning document based on every aspect of demographic, social, technical, architectural…etc science; growth and progress must be regulated through periodically updating the Plan not through the bargaining process between developer and city planners.

    So step number two, should be to abolish or at least to restrict drastically: the rezoning process.

  2. Reform and/or abolishment of the OMB is long overdue. It is nothing more than a tool to spit in the face of local councils and planning departments. ADI Developments appeal and that of Jack Dennison are classic examples of the immediate need for action.

  3. FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH, YOU HAVE MY SUPPORT FOR CHANGE. BETTER STILL, ABOLISH THE O.M.B. OR AT LEAST ITS POWER TO OVERIDE CITIZENS WISHES. CAN’T HELP FEELING THAT YOU ARE BLOWING IN THE WIND. GOOD LUCK CY MILLS

  4. It’s about time an effort was made to curtail the power of the OMB – builders and others have been using the OMB tactically (at least here in Burlington) to push through their own agendas and builds, when they are nowhere near confirming to city plans and regulations. Disgraceful waste of time and resources.

  5. Good news.
    Except I disagree with the language used in the Oakville approach. Wishy-washy terms such as “deference”, “reasonableness”, and “precedent” are strong leverage for the OMB to continue business as usual. A lukewarm approach to solving the OMB problem will not work.
    Terms expressing the spirit and intent of an initiative will always be taken to have a specific meaning: one that serves the ambitions/objectives of the decider at any moment in time. The interpretation of the terms will vacillate wildly, but will always be said to be precisely in accordance with the law. This is typical in government rules and regulations where the government wishes to retain “flexibility” when applying the rules (See CRA). Given these broad terms the OMB’s power would not be limited in any significant way.

    IF the problem of the OMB goes away, it will be refreshing to see how Burlington council members vote on controversial projects with the excuse of “legal costs” removed. At present, it is all too common for council to obtain off-the-cuff instant legal opinions about the chances of successful opposition to an amendment in an OMB hearing, and base their decisions on such blurted lightweight opinions. This is not a decision per-se but a tactic for deflecting blame for being weak-kneed in opposition to the developers, and OMB.

    Sitting in chambers and listening to council and legal staff discuss the financial risks of defending a good and consistent decision vs. giving up, is a strong lesson in the depressing reality that many in council view every citizen-taxpayer as a liability.

  6. We should be careful what we wish for. Somewhere in this push to limit the powers of the OMB will be a condition or situation that will come back to bit us in the you know what.

    As I see it, the OMB answers to provincial authority. When it was created the province wanted to have a mechanism for ensuring that municipalities adhered to provincial policy such as its ‘Places to Grow’ initiative. Ideally this should have been handled through the review and approval process of each municipalities’ OP but the province doesn’t want to get into a long drawn out approval process with each city so they simply rubber stamp the OPs and then take on the municipality at the OMB level.

    If the powers of the OMB are curtailed or if it is abolished expect the province to get its nose very deep into each city’s OP. This may or may not be desirable as the traditional provincial approach is to paint all cities with the same brush.

  7. Excellent, excellent news!!

    This must correct the long standing injustice of municipalities not having true planning jurisdiction within their own boundaries.

    Hopefully this reform will come sooner rather than later.

    I can see a gold rush mentality developing where people like ADI would do everything they could to push their projects to the OMB before the reform occurs. Hope that this behaviour will be anticipated and prevented by the province.

  8. The OMB should be limited to ensuring that municipalities follow their own published rules. Anything more than that makes municipal planning a farce.
    I wonder what it costs to fund the OMB? Is it there mostly to provide retirement jobs for those with friends in the government, like Canada’s senate?

  9. I agree with the idea that it badly needs the kinds of much limiting reforms indicated in the Councilor’s outline, and indeed, if abolished, I wouldn’t miss it either.

    As an institutional body, it has great power to overturn local council and citizen decisions, and processes that have already jumped through many hoops to get citizen, council and provincial approvals. This should not happen.

    Making it even worse, if that’s possible, the so-called “tribunal” might consist of ONE person! And the decision is final, cannot be appealed! This is dictatorship.

    This situation, I’m afraid, is ripe for the corruption of the process and the decision-making. The development business involves far and away too much money for this to be allowed to continue another minute.

    Throw away the naivety, if anyone still has any, that this system can be trusted.

  10. Marianne:
    If the Municipality has a Provincial approved OP, then I would agree with you, the OMB should not be involved in a second approval!
    However, how often does the Municipality revise it’s OP?
    I understand the Municipality must review their OP every 5 to 7 years, is that correct?

  11. In order for Queen’s Park to take this seriously, let’s make it an election issue. Appeals such as ADI’s and Jack Dennison’s are a flagrant abuse and would not occur in the absence of the OMB.

What's your take?