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Statement on Bill 139, Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017

The provincial government has tabled a bill that will reform the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), with the stated goal of empowering municipalities. As a long-time critic of the OMB, the proposed reforms fail to give Toronto the deference and responsibility it deserves.

In 2012, I helped lead a push to remove Toronto from the purview of the OMB. My goal has not changed. The OMB frustrates residents, planning staff, and local councillors. It issues unaccountable decisions, sets undesirable precedents and drives land speculation and applications for inappropriate development onto unsuitable sites.

The reforms rename the OMB as the “Local Planning Appeal Tribunal” whose members will be appointed by the provincial government in a similar manner, with only one tribunal member required to make decisions, just as the OMB functions today. This new tribunal appeals to be "local" in name only. The problematic language in the Planning Act that directs OMB members to “have regard to” the decisions of municipal councils would also permit the tribunal to continue giving little to no weight to the decisions of City Council.

Furthermore, all applications for zoning by-law amendments and most applications for official plan amendments remain appealable. While Council would be given the opportunity to make a new decision, the tribunal is still given the opportunity on a second appeal to craft a new decision without deference to City Council, even when supported by professional planning reports.

Toronto has a professional and sophisticated planning department that deals with thousands of planning applications. We don't need the current OMB and we certainly don't need an OMB-lite that allows a single unelected tribunal member to upend the work of residents, planning staff and local government when responding to an application.

If the City must be saddled with an unelected tribunal, then quorum at a tribunal hearing should require a minimum of three members. In addition, the standard of review should be reasonableness. If the city makes a reasonable decision that is consistent with a policy statements issued under the Planning Act, conforms with or does not conflict with a provincial plan and conforms with our official plan, then no appeal should be allowed.

This is a 100-year opportunity to see real fixes to our land use planning policies in Toronto and Ontario. I urge, the Province to enact real legislative change, and not merely tinker with or simply rename the OMB.