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LN Bulletin: OMB Reform Report

RCPO Releases Report Recommending Five Areas for OMB Reforms

In June of this year, the provincial government announced that it would be undertaking a review of the scope and effectiveness of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the province’s land use planning tribunal. The Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario (RPCO) recently released its final report recommending a number of reforms to the OMB as part of its input for the province’s review.

The RPCO is a group of senior officials from upper- and single-tier municipal governments throughout Ontario who meet regularly to discuss planning issues of mutual interest and to advocate on behalf of member municipalities to the federal and provincial governments. The members of RPCO plan for over 80% of Ontario’s population.

The RCPO’s report, titled “Reforming the Ontario Municipal Board: Five Actions for Change” focused on the work of the OMB as it relates to land use planning matters governed by the Planning Act, and identified five main issues of concern: (1) large, complex hearings take too long and tie up resources; (2) resolving disputes at the OMB is expensive; (3) the OMB has insufficient regard for the decisions of municipal staff and Councils; (4) the process is too litigious; and (5) the OMB’s powers to conduct de novo hearings are too broad.

The report concluded by making 26 specific recommendations for reform, grouped into five proposed “actions”. View a full copy of the report here.

Action 1: Filter

First, the report recommends filtering certain types of planning appeals that appear before the OMB, so that only matters of legitimate planning substance appear before the OMB.

Specifically, the report recommends: the implementation of Bill 73 (Smart Growth for Our Communities Act) and Bill 204 (Promoting Affordable Housing Act); the removal of the right to appeal all municipally-initiated official plans or official plan amendments in defined circumstances; and the reduction of the OMB’s role in dealing with appeals of minor variances and consents.

Action 2: Sharpen

Second, the report recommends sharpening the practices and procedures of the OMB so that files move through the system more efficiently.

Specific recommendations include: dismissing appeals that lack sufficient land use planning grounds; increasing the standards for submitting an appeal; procedural controls to improve scheduling hearing events, the efficiency of dispute resolution processes, and to make the process less litigious; and rules to deal with new evidence brought to the OMB.

Action 3: Strengthen

Third, the report recommends strengthening the professional capacity of the OMB in order to carry out its role more effectively. Focus areas include enhancing the standards for Board member appointment and providing better compensation, and relieving the backlog of older files awaiting resolution.

Action 4: Resolve

Fourth, the report recommends that all appeals proceed through a Board-sponsored planning-based scoping process, termed a Mandatory Review and Mediation Process (MRMP) and for every opportunity for resolving disputes through ADR methods to be explored before parties appear at the formal hearing stage.

Action 5: Step Up

Last, the report recommends that both the province and municipalities “step up” their professional planning contribution to make the overall planning system work more smoothly and to eliminate the broad avenues for appeal that current practices open up. This would entail the province dedicating greater resources toward issuing timely decisions on matters of provincial interest, and for municipalities to focus on updating zoning by-laws, implementing community planning permit systems, and having planning staff be more forthright with their opinion early in the process.

If you have questions about the Ontario Municipal Board or any aspect of municipal, land use planning, or development law, please contact one of our lawyers.