Toronto

Ford government shuts down agency that helps people fight zoning appeals

The Ford government is closing a provincial agency that gives legal assistance to residents battling development changes in their local municipality.

Opposition accuses PCs of doing favours for developers by closing new support centre

The Ford government is closing a provincial agency that helps residents battle development changes in their local municipality. (Trinity Development Group)

The Ford government is closing a provincial agency that gives legal assistance to residents battling development changes in their local municipality. 

The Local Planning Appeal Support Centre was created just last year as part of the Wynne government's reforms to the former Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a body long criticized for favouring developers in its decisions about zoning. 

The centre provides information to citizens on the complicated land-use planning process, guiding neighbourhood groups through public meetings. It also offers free legal help with appeals of municipal zoning decisions, now heard at the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal, the quasi-judicial body that replaced the OMB. 

The centre's closure is prompting critics to accuse the Progressive Conservatives of pro-developer bias. The move was not publicly announced by the government, but was revealed in a short note posted on the agency's website

"The Government of Ontario has made a decision to close the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC).  LPASC has until June 30, 2019 to wind down the business," says the posting,

"Effective immediately, LPASC will no longer be accepting new requests for professional services from the public.  During this wind down period, LPASC is committed to continuing to serve, to the best of its ability, those clients who have retained its services."

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, whose ministry oversees the centre, declined a request for an interview Friday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The agency began last April with 10 staff and a budget of $1.6 million for 2018-19, according to provincial government figures.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, whose ministry oversees the centre, declined a request for an interview Friday.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the ministry of the attorney general said the government has to make "difficult decisions" about programs and demand for the centre's services has been low, averaging just three enquiries per day.

"Recent reforms to the land use planning and appeal system give greater weight to the decisions of local communities, while balancing development and growth in Ontario," said the statement. "Over time this will result in fewer appeals at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. and an appeal process that is more efficient and affordable for everyone."

Mulroney did not respond to questions from CBC about the fate of the staff, and how shutting the centre squares with Ford's promise that no public sector workers will lose their jobs. 

'The land-use planning process is very complicated and is very difficult to work through,' says Anna Pace, chair of the support centre about to be closed by the Ford government. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

The New Democrats say the move amounts to "stacking the deck" against ordinary people in favour of powerful developers.

"Doug Ford is once again doing favours for his friends," said NDP municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch in a statement. He said the centre "gave local communities a fighting chance when facing off against wealthy developers." 

"It really looks like a confirmation of the alliance between Doug Ford and the developers," said Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers in an interview Friday.

"This support centre was specifically designed to help citizens groups meaningfully participate in planning appeals that traditionally have been dominated by well-heeled developers," Des Rosiers said.  

Former minister of municipal affairs Ted McMeekin tweeted that the move is "going backwards." 

The chair of the centre's board of directors, Anna Pace, said she is disappointed by the decision. 

"The land-use planning process is very complicated and is very difficult to work through," said Pace in an interview Friday.

"Big developers can afford to hire the resources that they need," she said. "It's important for people to have advice and support." 

Pace said the centre made "a lot of progress" in its first year of existence. "We had very good staff," she said.

"We were getting an increasing number of inquiries, and a number of people let us know they really appreciated the information we were able to give them." 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.