Michael Speaks out No.7

Prior to sharing my thoughts on the value of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), it would be beneficial to understand its history and purpose. The OMB is unique to the Province of Ontario, and was originally named the “Ontario Railway and Municipal Board” (ORMB). It was established in 1906 and was Ontario’s first independent, quasi-judicial administrative tribunal. The ORMB had a name change to the OMB in 1932. Its mandate is to resolve appeals from decisions made by Ontario municipalities and/or other bodies; either via Pre-Hearing sessions or Public Hearings. The OMB provides a setting to hear appeals on land use planning and other matters. The OMB bases its decisions on the evidence presented at a Hearing; and any and all relevant law. At present there are seventeen (17) members that adjudicate on a broad range of disputes.   

With the aforementioned in mind and my experience spanning over 30 years, I can’t help but conclude that the Province of Ontario is better off for having the OMB. I have had the good fortune of appearing and/or preparing for many OMB Hearings. Win or lose, appearing before the OMB is an invigorating, liberating and intellectually stimulating experience.  There is nothing like a good OMB Hearing to get the blood flowing. 

Applications which end up before the OMB are adjudicated in an impartial setting. Unlike municipal Councillors who are more often than not subjected to unfair and fierce pressure from local special interest groups, OMB Members are emotionally detached from the parties appearing before them. Board Members are responsible for making decisions based on “facts”. They undertake “objective” rather than “subjective” evaluations. The broad public interest and the application of sound planning principles rule the day; thank goodness.  

OMB decisions are based on evidence, governing legislation, Official Plan policies, Zoning By-law provisions, as well as relevant technical plans and studies. Expert witnesses are called upon to assist the Board and provide opinion evidence on whether or not the matter before the OMB represents “good planning”. 

Contrary to popular belief that the OMB favors the development industry when rendering decisions, leading Canadian expert and author on public opinion, Aaron A. Moore “found that the OMB often favors expert testimony of municipal planners as they are considered to have greater autonomy than their private sector counterparts.” (www.homefinder.ca BILD). The development industry does not have an unfair advantage at the OMB, nor an ability to influence Board Members in a nefarious manner. At the end of the day, the party who presents the best evidence usually carries the day; as they should.  

From my perspective, I have always found that hard work, perseverance and preparation go a long way in building strong and credible cases. By and large, most professional planners are proud and honest individuals who, when confronted with an Application which has been Appealed to the OMB, take it upon themselves to apply themselves to the task at hand. Legislators, the general public, applicants, and planning and development professionals who believe that they are acting in the best interest of our communities should welcome the opportunity for their decisions and opinions to be scrutinized by independent and impartial OMB Members. The OMB is an extension of the judiciary. In a civil and open society, a free and independent judiciary is vital.  

Long live the Ontario Municipal Board and God Bless all who engage with it! 

That’s it for now. Remember… “The only way you may succeed is if you try” (Yoda). 

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Read contributions by Michael Gagnon, Managing Principal Planner of Gagnon Walker Domes Ltd. (GWD) click here

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