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One feels a sense of hope that Bill 139 will reduce cynicism of citizens with regard to land-use planning in Ontario

I have taken a previous text, related to the Long Branch Character Guidelines project, and have repurposed it for my comments regarding Bill 139 , which is concerned with reform of the Ontario Municipal Board.

I have sent the comments to Jocelyn McCauley at comm-socialpolicy@ola.org

At a previous post, I noted the deadline for comments was Oct. 24 at 6:00 pm. That has changed, An updated deadline was Oct. 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm. You can, however, still send in your comments, even after the above-noted deadline:

Update from MPP Peter Milczyn regarding Bill 139, Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017

My comments regarding Bill 139 follow below.

Distortion of everyday language

I strongly support the proposed legislation. The sooner it is implemented, the better. I also believe it should be implemented retroactively, for reasons that were outlined at the Oct. 17, 2017 meeting of the Standing Committee on Social Policy.

My central comment, with regard to the Ontario Municipal Board, is that a noteworthy feature of urban planning in Long Branch (South Etobicoke), where I have lived for 20 years, entails a consistent and wide-ranging distortion of everyday language. I imagine the same distortion of language has given rise to cynicism elsewhere.

The degree of cynicism that is evident was a theme that was revisited several times at the Oct. 17, 2017 Bill 139 committee hearing, that I attended at Committee Room 1 at Queen’s Park.

Such a distortion – and debasement – of language has led to a situation in which, at Ontario Municipal Board meetings, in a large proportion of decisions, the word “Major” has become interchangeable with the word “Minor.”

The distortion of language, as it relates to urban planning, has given rise to an ongoing state of affairs in which a growing body of case law has been constructed, at the Ontario Municipal Board.

The case law has reinforced, and has guided, the incremental distortion of language, as it applies to urban planning, in neighbourhoods such as Long Branch. I would imagine that the same process has been underway elsewhere in Ontario.

It would, in response to such a state of affairs, be highly valuable if proposed OMB Reform legislation would lead to a situation where, it would be possible for all parties to spell out in detail, and in the visual language of urban design, what a “Minor” variance would really look like, when planning decisions are made.

Conversely, it is imperative that all parties have a shared definition of what the word “Major” means when it refers to variances from local by-laws.

Without specific directions, from what I have observed over the years, OMB members have in a majority of cases – and with notable, but few, exceptions – left their decisions, regarding such definitions, to “professional judgement.”

That is, it is my hope that, with the passage of Bill 139, decision makers at the Toronto Local Appeal Body, and at similar Tribunals elsewhere, will have some clearly defined criteria, other than their professional judgement, to distinguish between “Major” and “Minor.”

Professional judgement, from what I can gather, from observing many OMB meetings, serves as code for subjective understanding, or personal preference – in many cases, in the absence of, or in disregard of, relevant evidence.

The concept of evidence-based practice does not, except in rare and inspiring cases, appear to be a standard feature of this form of professional judgement, from what I have observed, over a period of many years.

Clear and consistent direction from managers of policy initiatives

As a rule, in my anecdotal experience as an observer, and as a participant-observer, input from residents has been (with rare exceptions) consistently disregarded, when matters of professional judgement come into play.

Without a focused plan regarding implementation of Bill 139, and a way to judge the success of said implementation, the legislation is likely, from what I have anecdotally observed, to have limited impact on the quality of land-use decision making, at the street and neighbourhood level.

The provision of clear and consistent direction – specifically, for Toronto Local Appeal Body decision makers, and decision makers at similar bodies  elsewhere – from the managers of policy initiatives, such as Bill 139, is imperative, in order to rebuild public respect for decision-making processes across Ontario.

Currently, based on what I have anecdotally observed, the respect is not there.

The alternative is a loss of interest, among otherwise enthusiastic residents, in civic engagement, as it relates to land-use planning.

A lack of engagement stands to further erode the social fabric that serves as a foundation for a flourishing and vibrant province.

A protocol of regular assessment and revision

The value of the legislation will be determined by how well, and how fully, it is implemented, by decision makers involved with urban planning in municipalities across Ontario.

For that reason, I support the proposal that the legislation should be re-assesed, and if necessary revised, on a regular basis, to ensure it has a clear and demonstrable effect, in close compliance with the original intent of the legislation, on urban-planning decisions that are made, as the years go by.

The descriptor “eclectic,” when used by OMB decision makers = kiss of death

Under current conditions, when an OMB decision maker announces that, “We have a street here that is eclectic,” you can be certain that such a statement is the kiss of death for the physical character of a given streetscape.

So long as we depend upon words such as “eclectic,” the physical character of neighbourhoods such as Long Branch will be a fondly remembered, distant memory, celebrated in some well-researched book project, that some dedicated amateur historian (who will, by that time, be contentedly residing at a leafy, tree-lined street in Stratford, Ontario) will have put together.

Based on my anecdotal experience, in attending a large number of Ontario Municipal Board hearings over many years, the word “eclectic” serves as a code word for:

“We do hereby affirm, as inevitably we must, that a couple of tall, narrow, and long soldier houses, on the proposed severed lots, will serve as an ideal, commendable Minor variance, in all respects in accord with the Toronto Official Plan and the City of Toronto By-Laws.”

In some pockets of the neighbourhood, the kiss of death has already been bestowed in Long Branch, with a suitable sense of occasion, drama, and finality.

I live on such a street, in such a pocket, and we look forward to moving out. Long-time neighbours of ours, across the street, have already made the move, prior to the upcoming emergence of two soldier houses, on a 45-ft lot, directly to the east of them.

Recordings of Tribunal meetings

The proposed OMB Reform legislation includes a provision for the recording of oral testimony at Local Planning Appeal Tribunals.

The draft OMB Reform legislation notes (p. 56) that: “All oral evidence submitted before the Tribunal shall be taken down in writing and, together with such documentary evidence and things as are received in evidence by the Tribunal, form the record.”

I see the provision of transcripts as tremendously important, as a way to ensure transparency in relation to land-use decisions in Ontario. This is so important, in my view, as a long-time blogger with a keen interest in news about how planning decisions are made across Ontario.

Institutional drift

With regard to the debasement of language, that I refer to, as it relates to urban planning in Ontario, it is useful to be aware of the history of institutional drift that has been evident in decades past.

The latter topic – that is, the manner in which OMB decision-making has incrementally changed, with major, and highly deleterious, consequences in recent years – is outlined at a previous post entitled:

Culture of CofA and OMB decision-making has changed dramatically in 25 years: MPP Peter Milczyn

The incremental changes have had – in my anecdotal experience as a blogger, seeking to share accurate and balanced information – a strongly negative impact on the physical character, and social fabric, of the community.

The debasement of language is, I would argue, akin to the process known as gaslighting, in which an attempt is made to question a person’s own, everyday perceptions, concerning the nature of events in everyday life.

The stretching out of shape of language, that I refer to, is equally as destructive, of the social fabric of the community, as the actual physical changes that we have witnessed in recent years.

Quality of communications

I would like to conclude my comments by referring to a review of a Film Series Premiere that I attended on Oct. 4, 2017 at Humber College:

Well-received, well-attended Mental Health Film Series Premiere at Humber College Lakeshore

I mention this film series because I sincerely believe that a similar format, to the series I have reviewed, would work well as a way to use social media to reach a wide public with the final version of the Bill 139 legislation.

That is, a series of 10-minute films about key features of the legislation, bookended by a similar format (as in the above-noted series) for the introduction and closing segment, of each film, would in my view work really well.

In that context, posting of such a series on YouTube would, I believe, be a great way to proceed, as has been the case with the film series that I have mentioned:

Keys to Our Past: Mental Health Film Series now available on YouTube

The above-noted series has high production values, yet appears to me to have been put together without an enormous budget.

In this production, four highly knowledgeable people, from four separate institutions, spent eight hours discussing the content, of their project.

They then proceeded with the filming, and concluded with first-rate, highly capable editing of the content.

In the event there may be interest, in speaking with the production team – in the event, that is, that there is interest in launching a similar public education / public engagement OMB Reform project – a good person to contact is Jennifer Bazar, Ph.D., curator at the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre at Humber College, in New Toronto just east of Long Branch.

 

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2 Responses to One feels a sense of hope that Bill 139 will reduce cynicism of citizens with regard to land-use planning in Ontario

  1. David Godley says:

    An important contribution and as you point out the debasement of language has led to the debasement of planning. I attended the resident’s association meeting arranged by FONTRA and that showed there are some difficulties still with the proposed legislation including having de novo hearings after review hearing by LPAT, and refusal to accept by City. This is a long drawn out process which will favour developers as the have much more money. Thank you for for sending in your Long Branch perspective. I will add mine later today.

  2. Jaan Pill Jaan Pill says:

    Good to read your message, David.

    Your comments remind me that, if a person’s cynicism is reduced, a reserve of accumulated cynicism remains in place.

    I’m pleased we have the opportunity to observe what we see, and share what we learn. In some societies, that basic right is not there.

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