Last week the City of Toronto took the first steps towards divorcing itself from the Ontario Municipal Board, or OMB, a quasi-judicial tribunal originally established in 1897 that, as Christopher Hume points out, now holds “ultimate power over what gets built in Ontario”. Hume argues that this is long overdue:
The truth, of course, is that the OMB should have been abolished decades ago. By enabling politicians to duck the hard decisions, it has left civic politicians in an infantilized state. Toronto faces all the issues of a big city, but behaves like a small town, or more accurately; a series of small towns, each presided over by the ward boss through whose hands all development applications pass. Knowing full well the real action will unfold later at the OMB, councillors tells constituents — i.e. the NIMBY hordes — exactly what they want to hear.
The Toronto Star, in a February 7th editorial titled “Ontario Municipal Board Interference in Toronto’s development has to end” further argues that the OMB is a “an unelected, widely despised, quasi-judicial provincial agency with the power to overrule any community’s development decisions” and that
“It is manifestly undemocratic for an appointed board such as the OMB to substitute its opinions for the considered judgment of elected councillors and professional city staff,” states a report to council. Quite right. No other province has a panel with that kind of power.”
However in an presentation titled “Villain or Scapegoat?: The Ontario Municipal Board and Land Use Planning in Ontario,” Aaron A. Moore argues that removing the OMB from the planning process will not address the larger issues present in Ontario’s planning regime, which he calls “The Wild West”.
The Building Industry and Land Development Association, representing over 1350 member companies, issued a press release in response to the City’s request, saying:
The OMB provides an impartial, independent, adjudicating tribunal that is removed from local political pressures, and renders decisions in accordance with the Planning Act. Many of those decisions have resulted in celebrated projects across the City of Toronto enjoyed by residents and neighbourhoods alike.
“Without the Ontario Municipal Board, facilitation, mediation and adjudication of those celebrated communities may never have been built,” said BILD Acting President Joe Vaccaro.
“Toronto City Council’s request to be removed from the Board’s jurisdiction feeds into a misrepresentation of how city-building decisions are made and how the OMB functions within the process. Without the OMB, city-building opportunities fall victim to nimbyism and political pressure.”
What do you think, has the OMB’s time come to an end in Toronto, or is there still a use for an impartial judge of what gets built where in our city?