OMB Reform - Here We Go Again

The Ontario Municipal Board ("OMB") is one of the oldest administrative tribunals in the Province of Ontario. Originally, it was established in 1897 as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, to oversee municipalities' accounts and to supervise the then-growing rail transportation system between and within various municipalities. It became the OMB in 1932, and since then the jurisdiction of the Board has grown by leaps and bounds, including becoming, essentially, the planning court to deal with appeals concerning a wide variety of planning instruments (including official plans and zoning bylaws) and municipal council decisions with respect to development applications. While other provincial jurisdictions, including Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, have third party tribunals which are empowered to make decisions with respect to certain development approvals, none of these tribunals have the far reaching scope that the OMB has with respect to land development matters that is within its purview.

The OMB has been much maligned in the media, especially over the past 10 or 15 years, as there have been a number of controversial decisions which have overturned decisions of municipal councils which many feel should have been upheld since councillors are the elected officials. It has been suggested by many that the OMB is undemocratic and should not have the ability to overturn decisions of elected officials since Board Members are only appointed by the provincial government and not elected officials themselves.

On a number of occasions the Provincial Government has looked at the role of the OMB in land use planning decisions and on a few occasions significant amendments to the Planning Act and other pertinent legislation were made in order to modify the Board's jurisdiction or to provide guidance on how the OMB should be rendering its decision. For instance, in 2006 the Province took away the right to appeal official plan amendment and/or rezoning applications to the OMB that had the effect of converting employment lands to non-employment uses, subject to the municipality having official plan policies in place dealing with the removal of land from areas of employment. The Planning Act was also amended to ensure that when the OMB makes a decision regarding a planning matter that "it shall have regard to" the decision of municipal council regarding that particular matter. Also in 2006, the Province enacted the City of Toronto Act, 2006, S.O...

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