Provincial legislation could dramatically change land planning in Winnipeg and region

City of Winnipeg's by-laws and planning and land use would come under jurisdiction of a municipal board and provincial minister, effectively overseeing much of the city's current authority.

Planning region around Winnipeg would have municipal board hear appeals on land use decisions

Legislation would create regional plan around Winnipeg, Selkirk and more than a dozen adjacent municipalities. (Bert Savard/CBC)

A piece of provincial legislation introduced last week could radically change how the city of Winnipeg and surrounding municipalities plan and oversee zoning, land use and development.

Bill 48 — the Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act — would create a capital planning region around the city and include numerous communities just beyond the Perimeter Highway.

A municipal board would be allowed to hear appeals of land use decisions within each community. The legislation would also grant sweeping powers to the provincial minister of municipal relations.

A village, 13 rural municipalities, two towns and the cities Winnipeg and Selkirk would be in the capital planning region.

Winnipeg has faced criticism and scandal in its permits and inspections departments, and the province signaled last year it would bring in some new rules.

A second piece of legislation — Bill 49 —  has been tabled with the intention of resolving disputes related to building and electrical permits. It would allow for adjudicators to conduct hearings and make binding orders respecting technical requirements of building and electrical standards. It would also deal with complaints that inspections and decisions on permit applications were not concluded in a timely manner.

The provincial minister of municipal affairs Rochelle Squires said the creation of the planning region and allowing its municipal board to hear appeals is intended to resolve land use disputes and stem the loss economic opportunities around Manitoba's largest city and adjacent communities.

Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires says each municipality — including the City of Winnipeg — "is in many cases working in silos, and so we're asking for a coordinated approach." (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Squires said the current system of planning is a "patchwork approach right now," and there are lengthy delays that need to be addressed. 

"All this will allow for an opportunity for an applicant to appeal to the municipal board when there is a dispute. And it will also ensure that there is some timeliness. We've heard of applicants who have waited months, sometimes years, for an answer," Squires told CBC News in an interview.

Squires rejected concerns the new act would significantly reduce the city of Winnipeg's ability to do its own planning or lose control of administering its by-laws.

"Nothing in this legislation prevents or precludes the city of Winnipeg or other municipalities from having its internal processes for development and subdivisions and planning. They will still have their planning...they will still have their processes," Squires said.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes told reporters Friday he hasn't had a chance to read through the legislation but intends to while business at city hall is shut down in response to the COVID 19 health emergency.

Property and planning chair Brian Mayes acknowledges problems in Winnipeg's appeals structure, but says he needs more time to review the province's legislation. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

Mayes, who is the chair of Winnipeg's property planning and development committee, admitted there have been problems with the city's appeals process for permits and zoning issues, and he expected the provincial legislation would speak to some of those issues.

"I may have used the term 'blowing up', so that appears to be happening...that's a big piece of legislation and I'd want to look at it. We've had some inconsistencies here," Mayes said.

The legislation designates sweeping powers to the minister for municipal affairs, from making regulations, to choosing the chair of the regional planning board, to ordering the board to "adopt or amend its regional planning by-law." 

When Squires was asked about the significant influence a provincial minister could have on what have been municipal responsibilities, she said the legislation was about protecting valuable agricultural land and looking at development and growth in a way that makes sense.

"The regional plan will be developed by all 18 municipalities in the capital region and then we're giving each municipality three years to adopt to that regional growth plan," Squires said.

Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters on Friday his administration has been very focused on reacting to the health emergency and passing the city of Winnipeg's budget, but Bill 48, and a second piece of legislation moving the city's authority over setting water and sewer rates to the Public Utilities Board, came as a surprise.

"We were surprised to learn of these things and there has not been meaningful dialogue," Bowman said.

Squires said the city of Winnipeg has had "a vital part in this development of this legislation,"  being part of a working group as it was being developed. There were officials who were "briefed behind the scenes" and she has "spoken with the mayor at some length on this."

Bowman said he and his staff needed time to review the legislation before responding.