Culture of decision making at the OMB changed dramatically over the past 25 years; Bill 139 seeks to get land-use planning back on the right track

As a resident of south Etobicoke for the past 20 years, I’ve been following, with much interest, recent initiatives to reform the Ontario Municipal Board.

I’ve made it a point, in this context, to attend two days of hearings at Queen’s Park in October 2017, regarding the provincial government’s OMB Reform legislation, before the legislation (known as Bill 139) was enacted.

At a Queen’s Park hearing on Oct. 17, 2017, Jennifer Keesmaat, former Chief Planner, City of Toronto, said: “My question to you today is this: How much does respect for democracy matter? It’s not just local democracy. It’s about democracy. It’s about accountability. The changes proposed in this bill represent a fundamental shift.”

Keesmaat’s apt and forcefully expressed comments were a major highlight of the two days of hearings. Transcripts of both days of OMB Reform hearings are available online.

A year earlier, on November 9, 2016, I attended a meeting in Long Branch at which Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Peter Milczyn outlined the Ontario government’s plans for OMB Reform.

At the meeting, Peter Milczyn spoke of a fundamental shift in culture, over the past 25 years, in how OMB and Committee of Adjustment decisions have been made. To learn more about this cultural shift, I met with Milczyn at his Constituency Office on April 13, 2018, and asked him how such a dramatic change had come about.

“So, I can’t fully explain the history,” said Milczyn. “I mean, I know anecdotally, as well as through experience that, say, 25, 30 years ago, the Ontario Municipal Board was a body where if you appealed to it, you really had to go in, and make your case as to why the municipality was wrong, in the decision that it took.”

Over time, he said, the culture shifted, “from ‘We’re here to enforce the rules,’ to ‘We’re here to accommodate development.'”

That was the reason, he added, why the OMB Reform legislation has been enacted. A transcript of the full interview with Peter Milczyn is available here.

In a previous article, I’ve highlighted the attempt, by Toronto Council, to counter trends in local land-use decision making, through the Council’s unanimous adoption of the first in a series of City-wide Character Guidelines.

Along with other residents, I will be following, with much interest, how the above-noted, major land-use planning initiatives – in Toronto and across Ontario – actually work out in practice.

A retired teacher, Jaan Pill is writing a book about local history in Long Branch. His website is at www.preservedstories.com.

Opinion article for Etobicoke Guardian/Toronto.ca website

This above-noted text has been prepared as an opinion article for the Etobicoke Guardian/Toronto.ca website.

 

 

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