Provincial land-use plan that would give developers more power than residents 'step backwards': Winnipeg mayor

The City of Winnipeg is chafing against provincial legislation that would only give developers — not residents — the power to appeal land-use decisions, among other changes the city views as placing too much power in the hands of provincial appointees.

Council poised to ask province to amend new legislation that would allow appointed board to second-guess city

The city is concerned about the consolidation of development decision-making power in the hands of provincial appointees. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg is chafing against provincial legislation that would only give developers — not residents — the power to appeal land-use decisions, among other changes the city views as placing too much power in the hands of provincial appointees.

City council is poised to vote Friday on a package of desired changes to Manitoba's Bill 48, The Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act.

The bill calls for sweeping changes to the way land-use decisions are made in Winnipeg and other Manitoba municipalities.

The most significant change would allow property owners to appeal city council rejections of secondary plans, rezonings and subdivision approvals in front of an unelected municipal board.

"This change results in a loss of autonomy for the City of Winnipeg in as much as final decision-making authority is taken away from elected officials and conferred to a board appointed by the province," writes Marc Pittet, Winnipeg's acting manager of urban planning and design, in a report to city council.

Only the property owners can make this appeal. Residents will not be granted the same right.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said this gives developers too much power.

"It's definitely concerning because it disenfranchises residents from having an equitable voice or having a voice to make those appeals," the mayor said Thursday in an interview.

Council will vote Friday to ask the province to grant residents the same power to make appeals before the municipal board.

Legislation creates 'service standards': minister

The city is also concerned about new requirements for the city to approve developments within shorter time frames — or forfeit the ability to make land-use decisions to the municipal board. 

The city wants the province to ensure these time frames are fair. It also wants the legislation changed to ensure municipal board decisions comply with city plans, policies and bylaws.

"You have much of the power being pulled into an unelected and certainly less accountable municipal board whose membership is chosen by the minister of municipal relations," Bowman said.

"It definitely seems like a step backwards in terms of openness, transparency and accountability" he added. "That's why the amendments would be an improvement from its current form."

The proposal for the board came out of a 2019 provincial review of municipal planning, zoning and permitting, which described Winnipeg's planning, property and development department as dysfunctional.

Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires said in a statement the province is trying to establish a clear and consistent framework for development, reviews and appeals.

"The legislation does not take away any existing powers of municipalities or avenues for citizen input. It creates timelines and service standards to ensure that there is certainty, consistency and accountability," Squires said in a statement.

No consultation: Bowman

In his report to council, Pittet writes the province does not appear to understand the way land-use approvals are made at the city. Other municipalities have expressed similar concerns, he added.

City staff were not consulted before the province gave a first reading to Bill 48 in March, he said.

Bowman said there were no consultations with the city and no explanation provided by the municipal relations minister.

Bowman also said he is concerned the changes to the land-use approval process are escaping public scrutiny because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province contemplated the legislation well before the pandemic, but the first reading took place during the initial hectic weeks of the public-health crisis.

"We haven't had the benefit of the time that we would have appreciated having to review and scrutinize and add our voice," the mayor said.

"We're doing that now and we're doing so under significant time constraints because our attention is certainly diverted, as it should be, to protecting the health and safety of our residents during a global pandemic."


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.


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