Cities calling for OMB reform need to plan properly, minister says

If municipalities did their jobs properly when creating planning documents, there would be no need for the Ontario Municipal Board, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin told CBC in Kitchener-Waterloo. But that doesn't happen.

More than 40 municipalities pass motions calling for major changes to land use tribunal

Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin says there is a need to make changes to the Ontario Municipal Board, but municipalities also have to do a better job when creating planning documents. (Michael Gregory/CBC)

Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin says if municipalities did their jobs properly when creating planning documents, there would be no need for the Ontario Municipal Board.

"I'd like to see more emphasis put on local planning because if we do that, to the extent that it's done properly, there's really no need for an OMB. But that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of municipalities across the province," McMeekin told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris in an interview Thursday morning.

But when asked if that means the OMB – which is a tribunal that hears applications and appeals under various land use planning laws and operates under the Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario – could potentially be dismantled, McMeekin said no.

"We need a body like the OMB because sometimes people break the rules," he said.

Municipalities calling for reform

"I think there are a lot of mixed feelings about the OMB. Developers don't like it often because they feel it's biased towards citizens, citizens don't like it because it's biased towards the development industry. The truth of the matter is, there's got to be a better way to mediate disputes and handle things," McMeekin said in response to a growing number of municipalities that have called on the province to reform the OMB.

The calls for reform started in January when the Town of Aurora passed a motion asking the province to limit the scope of what the OMB can address to matters of law and process.

Cambridge and North Dumfries have supported the motion from Aurora. Guelph passed its own motion Monday night calling for "significant and substantial reform," including limiting the tribunal's jurisdiction.

The City of Kitchener has deferred a motion on OMB reform until the fall.

The Region of Waterloo planning and works committee has accepted reports about a planned provincial review and motions passed by municipalities in the region as information. The committee members agreed not to take a position on the matter until a review is done and suggested the topic should be discussed at an all council meeting.

Poor planning

Many municipalities have said the OMB sides with developers, often ignoring provincially approved municipal official plans.

The City of Guelph passed an amendment in 2014 to its official plan to allow the Guelph Innovation District to move forward on the lands near the former correctional facility, but that decision has been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. (Google Streetview)

But McMeekin said a recent book looking at the history of the OMB called Planning Politics in Toronto found 80 per cent of the problems that came before the tribunal were because of poor planning by municipal staff and councils.

"You don't do proper planning, you create all kinds of openings for people to appeal on either side of an issue and that's cumbersome, expensive and creates difficulties for building the kind of strong, healthy communities we want," he said.

'Specificity' needed

McMeekin said a provincial review of the OMB is scheduled to begin later this spring.

He would like to have a panel of stakeholders take on the review and he wants municipalities to ask for specific changes.

"It's not enough for municipalities to say 'reform the OMB.' I mean, that's easy to [say]," he suggested. 

"What we need is a far greater degree of specificity of what sort of things they'd like to see happen and some admission that there's some responsibilities often on the parts of municipalities to do better planning. Our government is certainly prepared to work with municipalities on both fronts."

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