I was among those who participated in a well attended provincial consultation on the “Land Use Planning and Appeal System” in Ontario. But the one thing that attracted many participants–the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB)–was something that was not a part of the consultation.
Eliminating OMB not on the table
When I was looking at the discussion guide in advance of the meeting, I was disappointed to learn that “the consultations will not discuss or consider elimination of the OMB.” When the OMB makes decisions that fly directly in the face of provincial legislation and decisions of elected municipal councils such its ruling on the Region of Waterloo’s Official Plan, there’s a case to be made for disbanding it.
I’m told that the OMB is better than leaving these matters to the court and that may be true but I have trouble seeing the OMB being adequately reformed. I prefer to see it disbanded and replaced by a newly constituted body without the inherited culture and processes that have so many municipal politicians and engaged citizens upset. Not even being able to discuss the OMB’s operations, practices and procedures was a lost opportunity.
OMB is not in MMAH
The OMB was off the table because as a quasi-judicial body it is part of the ministry of the Attorney General while the consultations were being held by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH). That still left quite a bit of room for the province to get feedback on the rest of the land use planning and appeal process. That range was narrowed though by the discussion guide which seemed to focus primarily on where MMAH felt change was possible.
We were promised that any feedback relevant to other Ministries would be shared with them.
OMB too predictable
I was able to make that point at the end of the evening. I said I was surprised that one of the objectives was to make the process more predictable. While that may be beneficial at earlier stages of the process, there’s already many concerned that when it came to the OMB that the process was already too predictable and that was a problem that wasn’t being addressed.
Another participant made a similar point that municipalities were reluctant to make decisions that they wanted to make because they’d be overturned by the OMB.
Public engagement lost when OMB becomes involved
Still plenty of talk centred on the OMB. It was just about all my table on public engagement wanted to talk about even before I opened my mouth. We arrived at a consensus that there was a major flaw in the system if public engagement is a key part of the decision-making process all the way along but was not heard by the OMB in making its decisions. Here is how it was reported in the Waterloo Chronicle and Kitchener Post.
Much of the roundtable discussion dealt with ways to make the quasi-judicial board more transparent, and how to make the process less costly.
“Right now, that public consultation piece is entirely lost as part of the process,” said James Howe, a resident of Kitchener. “People who have invested themselves in part of this process and being engaged, their voices need to be there at all stages.”
I’ve embedded a Storify below that captures many of the other tweets from the event.
Get involved and make your voice heard
Smartening Up Growth in Waterloo Region
If you’re interested in land use planning and how we can be smarter about how we do it, I encourage you to attend a forum happening this Thursday (Dec. 12). Doors open at 6:30 with the discussion running from 7 – 8:30 p.m.
Participate in the online consultation
You can still participate in the same MMAH consultation process online. I expect the process to be improved as a result even if it doesn’t involve the OMB so let the folks in Municipal Affairs know what you think.