I want to thank the Committee for providing me the opportunity to speak to Bill 139 and the important legislative change this Bill presents for Municipal decision-making in land-use planning. While I appreciate the invitation to speak to the Committee, as I was unable to attend the hearing in person, I am providing my comments in writing.
My comments will be brief.
The current planning decision-making framework – which the OMB is at the centre – is broken. It doesn’t work for any party involved – builders, residents and municipal councils alike. It’s been known for quite some time that change is desperately needed. The status quo is simply untenable.
The Town of Aurora and the OMB Reform Working Group has led the way towards advocating for changes to how planning decisions are made in this Province. With the input of over a hundred municipal representatives, the key recommendation to emerge from our May 2016 Summit on OMB Reform, was a recommendation that the Province, as part of the Provincial review of planning legislation, consider limiting the scope of powers of the OMB to matters of law or process.
In short, we asked for bold, meaningful change, and the Province listened.
Bill 139 addresses, in a comprehensive fashion, literally decades of concerns raised with respect to how the OMB makes decisions – or whether it should exist at all. For far too long, municipalities and the residents they serve have been unable to grow or to develop their communities with a shared vision because that vision – as defined in their Official Plan – could not be realized. So, it is not too strong a word to say that the changes to the planning decision-making framework proposed in Bill 139 are game-changers that will have a profound and positive impact on how our communities develop.
There is no question that this Bill gives more authority to local municipal councils for how they plan their communities. And this is a welcome change. Councils will now have a greater say in how their communities grow, develop and evolve.
But while the Bill does give greater decision-making authority to municipal leaders, these same provisions will also have the effect of holding all officials accountable for their decisions. No longer will Councils be able to use the threat of OMB appeals as an excuse in our decision-making processes. We will have to stand by our decisions.
So I take issue with the critics of this Bill that say that the proposed changes will spell the end of development in Ontario; that we’re going to see a rise in aggressive NIMBYism; that Councils will be “pressured” by residents to make decisions that aren’t “good planning”.
I don’t agree at all. In fact, I think we will see less NIMBYism; much less. This Act levels the playing field. It clarifies the rules and ensures that all parties have to play by them. The current situation of everyone having their own version of the rules and expecting an unelected unaccountable third party – the OMB – to decide whose rules win, well, that will stop. As will the necessity to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars defending an Official Plan against duelling interpretations of provincial policies.
I think we will see a rise in smarter growth, smarter development. Communities planned with communities – of today and the future – in mind. The provisions outlined in Bill 139, ensure that municipalities are accountable for the plans they develop and the decisions they make in support of them.
Is this new legislation perfect? No. Nothing is ever perfect. There are a number of issues that need to be clarified before the final draft is enacted- in particular what constitutes a Major Transit Station Area and what are the implications for smaller communities like Aurora when considering MTSAs in Official Plans; what sun-setting provisions will be built into the Act so that we avoid a run on appeals before this Act comes into effect or confusion about what provisions apply to appeals that are currently under way. I think transition will be the key issue going forward as we move from the previous legislation to the new legislation and all that entails.
As I have stated in reviewing previous versions of the Bill, I believe that the proposed Bill as currently written will afford municipalities a greater say in land use planning decisions. It will allow municipalities to have a say – finally – in how we grow while at the same time keeping our communities unique. And that, to me, is good planning.
Councillor, Town of Aurora
Chair, Working Group on OMB Reform