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Reforming the OMB
17/11/2003

During the mayoral election, I wrote an article that touched on the problems that municipalities face because of the Ontario Municpal Board. The OMB is a politically-appointed body with jurisdiction over development and planning decisions. Harris-era rule changes and appointments have turned the OMB into a tool for developers to have their way, almost completely bypassing official plans and local decisions.

The Blackhole of Conservation has a website that seems to outline the entire case against the OMB. My city councillor Michael Walker also has a document online that calls for the abolition of the OMB.

Reforming the OMB should be one of the first moves that Dalton McGuinty makes to restore democratic power to municipalities. There are already ideas on how to do it, and I was exposed to some of them during the debates I attended during the race to elect the mayor of Toronto.

Planning issues were prominent at the North Toronto community debate I attended on June 18. The area was still very upset about the Minto Towers situation, and the debate was hosted by FoNTRA, which was the residents' organization that was so angered by that development.

David Miller suggested that the role of the OMB be limited to that of a court which would judge whether or not a municipality had followed its own rules. In other words, the OMB would only be able to overturn a municipality's decision if it found that the decision itself was in violation of the plan or bylaws of that town or city.

My notes don't reflect this, but I believe it was John Tory who said that municipalities should be given the power to overrule any OMB decision by a vote at council, probably requiring a super-majority of 2-1. (Someone made this suggestion, and my memory says it was John Tory, but it could have been someone else.)

John Nunziata essentially told us to forget reforming the OMB and that instead we should just kill it. According to him, we don't need an OMB at all and the place is "patronage heaven". He's got a point.

Reading my notes, it is hard to tell what Barbara Hall really had in mind for the OMB. I only mention this because today's Toronto Star reports a rumour that Hall's friends at Queen's Park may appoint her as Chair of the OMB.

Before the election campaign, the Ontario Liberals laid out their own plans for OMB reform:

  • Requiring that the OMB give greater weight to Municipal Official Plans in its decisions.
  • Eliminating the role patronage has played in OMB appointments.
  • Giving the OMB clear planning rules, so that decisions on issues like farmland preservation or the protection of affordable housing are consistent with the province's priorities.
  • Giving municipalities more time to make decisions on development applications, which will allow for greater public input on potential developments.
  • Taking decision-making power away from the OMB on minor issues, like the size of your neighbour's shed.

I believe that David Miller's suggestion is the best of the lot, but I would be open to other ideas. In any case, I hope that substantial changes to the OMB are one of the moves that McGuinty has in store for us in the next few months.


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