OMB reform, inclusionary zoning missing from government’s Planning Act announcement

After promising Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) reforms for years, the government’s proposed changes to the Planning Act don’t do enough to prevent the OMB from rewriting municipal planning policies, said NDP Municipal Affairs critic Cindy Forster. The government also missed an opportunity to finally allow municipalities to enact inclusionary zoning bylaws to increase affordable housing, said NDP GTA Issues critic Cheri DiNovo.

“The words ‘OMB reform’ are nowhere to be seen in this announcement,” said Forster. “You can’t fix Ontario’s land use planning system without fixing the OMB.”

When the government announced its land use planning review in the fall of 2013, the review specifically excluded any consideration of “eliminating or changing the OMB’s operations, practices and procedures.” This was the latest in a series of broken promises by the Liberals, who have been promising to reform the OMB ever since 2003, when it was a plank in their election platform.

Forster said the OMB’s 2013 decision to approve a sprawling development in Waterloo Region shows why OMB reform is needed. “Waterloo Region spent ten years developing a sustainable, transit-friendly Official Plan. And then the OMB ripped it up, and allowed a sprawling development ten times bigger than what the rules allowed. The OMB defied not only the municipality’s Official Plan, but also the province’s own Places to Grow Act, which was supposed to curb this sort of urban sprawl.”

Forster noted that the provincial government once had the power to review OMB policy decisions like the one in Waterloo. But in 2009, the government gave up this power, even though the OMB is an administrative tribunal that is supposed to answer to the government.

“Courts are supposed to uphold the law, and elected governments are supposed to write policy. The OMB can do both, and there is nothing the government can do when OMB rewrites the rules and makes up dumb planning policy,” said Forster. “There is currently no democratically-elected government that has ultimate authority to decide planning policy in Ontario. This is outrageous.”

Forster also noted that the government’s proposed requirement for municipal park plans won’t mean anything if the OMB can simply rip them up. She noted that earlier this year, the OMB rewrote Richmond Hill’s new parks plan. Instead of a plan that required developers to set aside parkland based on the number of people that would live in a development, the OMB imposed an arbitrary cap on parkland dedications based on land area.

“As far as the OMB is concerned, developers can cram as many people as they want into a tower, and they don’t have to increase the amount of parkland,” said Forster. “This sort of formula exists nowhere in statute. The OMB is out of control.”

Last year, DiNovo reintroduced for the fifth time her bill to allow municipalities to pass inclusionary zoning bylaws, as well as Bill 5, Respect for Municipalities Act to set Toronto free from the OMB. She said the government must ensure that municipalities have the power to mandate affordable housing in new developments.

“This government has paid lip service to inclusionary zoning and affordable housing. Now they must prove they are serious,” said DiNovo. “But just like ‘OMB reform,’ the words “inclusionary zoning’ are missing from this announcement.”