There’s no doubt that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus was right in that the only constant is change. One cannot step in the same river twice.
On the heels of the American election, like it or not, we see a nation looking for change. Coming from the Newmarket Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, I couldn’t help but be reminded what our ancestors fought for – democracy- another Greek word meaning rule of the common people. Democracy also encompasses systems that allow us to choose our leaders through a fair process, active participation in politics and civics, protection of human rights and laws that to apply to everyone.
Over the past 16 years as an elected official, I have seen a number of planning issues that have been addressed and mediated by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). I have also attended numerous sessions, including a “Lessons Learned” community meeting regarding an OMB decision about the Glenway golf course redevelopment in Newmarket; the OMB Reform Municipal Summit hosted by the City of Markham; the Ministry of Municipal Affairs – OMB Review Consultation held in Newmarket, as well as discussions with our MPP and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
Throughout all of these discussions I have heard common areas of concern that need to be addressed. I do not agree with those who would outright abolish the OMB because it would lead to appeals through the courts and in my view would be less effective, less responsive and considerably more costly.
From all of my discussions and review, I find the principles put forward by the AMO the most compelling issues for consideration. AMO believes that two core principles should guide the OMB review:
- Municipalities are a mature form of government and are in a position to take on a more rigorous role in land use planning. This requires a significant transformation of the OMB’s roles and procedures.
- Planning in Ontario has been and should continue to be a public, democratic process. Any adjudicative process that can supersede municipal decisions must ensure fair and equitable participation by local community members, and must meaningfully employ processes and decision-making methods that include the public.
In a democratic society we need a process that respects the rights of both residents and property owners, and to have the right to appeal. What we need is a level playing field including the following:
- Requirement for OMB to have regard to municipal decisions and information that was before Council
- Power to dismiss an appeal if application is substantially different from that which was before Council
- Expanded authority to dismiss an appeal without hearing
In this regard, my concerns are that these authorities and powers were provided to the OMB through Smart Growth for our Communities Act, 2015 but have not yet been fully implemented. The current OMB Review needs to be more substantive to ensure its scope and authority is exercised up to standards set by legislation. We also need to be sure the OMB authority cannot override Official Plans that have been adopted locally after extensive community consultation and approved by both Regional and Provincial Planning Authorities.
I encourage you to get engaged in this discussion. We need to exercise our democratic right to ensure we maintain control over what our community looks like now and in the future.
On that note, I’m proud of our planners and Newmarketonians for winning the Canadian Institute of Planners people’s choice award in the Great Places in Canada contest for Newmarket’s Historic Main Street.