Level the OMB
By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 10, 2016
The province is conducting a review of the Ontario Municipal Board and is collecting input from municipalities.
There is one simple and wonderful change the provincial government could make to the OMB that would greatly improve the way planning matters are handled in Ontario.
That would be to abolish the OMB altogether. Just scrap the whole thing.
As many readers are likely aware, the OMB is an appointed, quasi-judicial body that has a number of far-reaching powers under various pieces of legislation.
One of its key roles, though, is hearing appeals of planning decisions made by municipal councils, planning decisions which it has the power to override.
This is the big problem with the OMB. It is fundamentally undemocratic.
Municipal councillors are the elected gatekeepers of their communities. If a municipal council, guided by recommendations of its municipal planner, says no to a condominium development, for instance, there is probably a good reason for it.
Perhaps the size and aesthetics of the project are not suitable for the community. Perhaps local infrastructure or, in the case of Haliburton County, local lakes, are not able to accommodate the added stress that new developments in particular areas would bring.
Really. Who do you want making these decisions? People who live in the community, know the community and were elected by other people who live in the community, or a group of unelected people who likely couldn’t locate Haliburton County on a map?
And the OMB often sides with developers. A 2009 study showed it sided with developers 64 per cent of the time. While developers may not be lining up to construct condo towers in Haliburton County, this has become a major problem in Toronto and cities of the GTA, whose skylines are being shaped by OMB decisions.
In 2012, Toronto city council passed a resolution asking the province to liberate Toronto from the oversight of the OMB and around the same time, Mississauga city council asked the province to abolish the OMB altogether.
And for good reason. Not only can the municipal board overturn decisions of council, but OMB decisions then act as precedents for others appealing municipal council decisions.
“The OMB let my neighbour demolish a historic brownstone building to construct a glass tower, so I should be able to do the same thing.”
Problematic and undemocratic.
The OMB was established as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board in 1906. A major part of its role at the time was to oversee the development of rail lines throughout the province. So part of the reason the board was established in the first place is now wholly irrelevant
Also, while in 1906 many of the province’s municipal governments were still in somewhat infantile stages, they’ve had more than a century to mature.
Municipalities may be children of the province, but they are old enough they don’t need an all-knowing mother hovering over their shoulders, telling them what to do.