For those who seek to protect our neighbourhoods from unwanted and inappropriate development, the mere existence of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) portends an ongoing battle.
The residents of the Beach have witnessed a never-ending series of applications to build taller than permitted buildings along historical Queen Street. The City, to its credit, has undertaken visioning studies, historical analyses and even opposed some development in the planning stages. But still the city and residents must contend with the prospect of lengthy hearings before an unelected and unaccountable body.
As an MPP, it is part of my job to vet publicly appointed bodies. Several years ago I queried the then-appointed chair of the OMB, Marie Hubbard, about her views on the mandate of that body. I will never forget her response. She stated, “My mandate is to facilitate the development industry in the province.”
No words were spoken in favour of neighbourhood preservation, or of municipal official plans. It was all about the developers.
Fast forward to today. My colleague Rosario Marchese is the MPP for the riding of Trinity-Spadina. He has submitted Bill 20 which would in effect make the City of Toronto the final arbiter of planning decisions in our municipality and obviate the OMB’s role in Toronto.
In February 2012, city council voted 34 to five that Toronto be exempt from the OMB. MPP Marchese’s bill would give effect to that request. It is not difficult to see why council has requested such action from the provincial government:
1. The OMB sides with developers. Studies indicate that developers win 64 per cent of all hearings. They have deep pockets. Municipalities win only 36 per cent of the time. It is not a level playing field.
2. Land use planning is a municipal issue. The OMB pays limited attention to decisions made by councils. The “have regard to” provision of the law is routinely ignored. Courts have ruled that the OMB has to provide only minimal deference to local decisions.
3. The City of Toronto Act allows the city to set up its own appeal process.
4. The Liberal government under Dalton McGuinty removed all ministerial oversight from the OMB. In the past, Ministries could overrule bad decisions. That is not the case today.
5. The city routinely spends million of dollars defending its decisions and if it was the final arbiter, these monies and countless staff hours would be saved.
The City of Toronto is 129 years old. It is the largest municipality in Canada. It has professional planners, lawyers, engineers and architects capable of making informed and rational decisions. The time for provincial oversight from an unelected, unaccountable and developer-friendly body no longer has any place.
The City of Toronto has requested that it be set free. It is time for the cage to be opened so that this bird flies free. The residents of the Beach may yet gain control of our neighbourhood.
On an unrelated note, we are pleased that my bill – Bill 49, an act to protect the tips and gratuities of servers – has received unanimous support at second reading. It has now been sent to Committee to allow for deputations and possible amendment. Government resources and Cabinet support will be forthcoming. The egregious practice of tipping-out to business owners to keep one’s job may soon be history.
As always, I can be reached at our constituency office at 416-690-1032.
Michael Prue, MPP Beaches/East York