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Bridge Beat

Feb 13, 2012

The OMB must stay just as it is, impartial and non-political

The fight for -- and against -- the Ontario Municipal Board (“OMB”) is getting heated after Toronto City Council’s recent recommendation that Toronto be excluded from the jurisdiction of the OMB. 


As one of  Ontario’s longest-standing adjudicative tribunals, the OMB’s mandate is to hear land use applications and appeals on land use planning and other municipal issues. It is an independent and impartial body whose adjudicators are appointed by the provincial government and, accordingly, who remain largely out of the fray of local politics.


The fact that the OMB is not readily influenced by local political pressures – or more realistically NIMBYism – has meant that its decisions are not always popular with city residents.  Some Torontocolumnists have referred to the OMB as “secretive, even shadowy” and some have gone as far as calling it Toronto’s “century-old oppressor”.  However, everyone seems to agree that the OMB can make the unpopular development decisions which would have been difficult, nearly impossible, forToronto’s mayor or city councilors to make, and -- at a lesser cost toToronto taxpayers. 


BILD’s position is understandably protective of the OMB’s critical role in the development process:


In our current planning system, an appeal to an independent, non-political, unbiased decision-maker is essential to ensure that any municipality, community, ratepayer association and non-profit agency, along with the landowner has an opportunity to present and test the merits of an application against sound planning principles. This role is currently fulfilled by the OMB.”


As a testament to its impartiality, the OMB was able to oppose a proposal for a Walmart in Leslieville in 2009. Columnist Christopher Hume rightly asks the question  “…would council have had the strength to defy the world’s largest retailer?” Would city councilors have braved the backlash from their constituents and supported projects such as the Shops and Residences at Don Mills, or the condominiums in the Distillery District? It is evident that it would behoove City council to have an impartial body that protects projects that make sense from a planning perspective.


It is difficult to argue that the OMB is anything but independent.  In fact, that appears to be precisely what troubles those who would rather deal with a local body (funded byTorontotaxpayers) necessarily influenced by local constituent interests, and possibly dependent upon them.  While the OMB has been criticized as being ‘undemocratic’, would a local body susceptible to corruption be any more democratic?


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