Citizens want a say in shaping their communities, but when the system fails they are forced to go the antiquated Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). This is often a source of deep regret for them in terms of lost time and money. So for Ontarians, fixing the OMB is an important first step in sustainable community building.
The OMB, a land use resolution tribunal was instituted as a less expensive, less formal alternative to the courts, but OMB hearings can be just as costly and time consuming for all parties. Some ratepayer groups raise the funds to participate, others are shut out of hearings and mediation processes. Those that can afford to participate fully may be slapped with thousands of dollars in OMB hearing costs.
As a dispute resolution body, the OMB has been chastised for creating an adversarial process that pits neighbours against local governments and developers. By the time a ratepayers group goes to the OMB everyone’s in a fighting mood, thousands of dollars have already been raised, lawyers and a bevy of experts hired. The opportunity to mediate and work towards compromise is long gone.
Even members of the development industry support reducing the scope of the OMB. If developers didn’t have to pay lawyers and consultants to fight at the OMB, housing costs could be reduced with the cost savings potentially passed onto homebuyers. Further, fewer OMB hearings could reduce the time between filing a development application and construction which could get houses to market quicker and potentially at a lower cost.
Overall, the scope of the OMB needs to be reduced while upholding democratic decision making and valuing citizen participation in shaping our communities.
The good news is that the OMB is currently under review by the province and decisions are expected this spring. And we are hopeful that significant changes will be made to improve the effectiveness and scope of the OMB.
At Environmental Defence we’ve asked the province to fix the OMB by:
- Refer greenfield applications and environmental planning matters to the Environmental Review Tribunal.
- Refer urban planning matters to OMB members and Chairs with planning and urban design experience.
- Provide intervenor funding to allow citizens to participate meaningfully in hearings.
- Restrict the right to appeal. Too many planning matters are subject to appeal.
- Limit the awarding of hearing costs that penalize citizen participation.
- Improve accountability and transparency. Allow cameras and record OMB hearings.
- Upgrade the qualifications and diversity of OMB Board members.
It’s time to build a better, more effective Ontario Municipal Board. Sign our petition at FixtheOMB.ca.