The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) is an independent tribunal that makes decisions at arm's length from government, and hears matters under a large number of public statutes. The Board is governed by the Ontario Municipal Board Act, and reports administratively through Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario (ELTO) to the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The OMB is an important part of the province’s land use planning system. While the Board has diverse powers and responsibilities, its primary function is as an appeal body on land use issues, and the majority of matters before the Board relate to appeals under the Planning Act, including appeals of official plans, zoning by-laws and plans of subdivision. The Board is the main adjudicator of disputes between land owners, neighbours and municipalities. The land use planning system permits applications to change most land use plans and provides for applications and other planning matters to be appealed to the OMB. The government believes it is important that Ontario continue to have an independent appeal tribunal that can resolve some land use disputes - recognizing that not having an OMB would result in more appeals to the courts.
Since 2004, the government has implemented a series of land use planning reforms to make Ontario’s planning system more inclusive and transparent. These reforms have also affected the OMB, limiting the number of matters that can be appealed to the Board, giving municipalities a stronger voice and more independence in local land use decisions, and giving residents more say in land use decisions in their communities. These changes occurred through the Strong Communities (Planning Amendment) Act, 2004, the Planning and Conservation Land Statute Law Amendment Act, 2006 and, most recently, the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015.
Through this review, the government is seeking ways to build on past improvements to ensure the OMB can contribute within the land use planning system to its best effect. Accordingly, the government is undertaking consultations and seeking input on potential reforms. We want to hear from you about possible changes being considered to the scope and effectiveness of the OMB that could improve the Board’s role within the broader planning system.
The possible changes would:
- enable more meaningful, affordable citizen participation;
- give more weight to local and provincial decisions;
- support clearer, more predictable decision-making; and
- promote alternative ways of settling disputes.
Recent government consultations on related issues, as well as a posting on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs website which invites public input on topics regarding the OMB, have helped to inform the priorities for discussion in this review. The OMB review has been organized according to the following five themes, with input requested on possible changes the government is considering and questions identified for each theme:
1. OMB’s jurisdiction and powers:
- Protecting public interests for the future by limiting some appeals;
- Bringing transit to more people by limiting certain appeals;
- Giving communities a stronger voice by limiting certain appeals, expanding the authority of local appeal bodies, clarifying a limitation on the OMB’s authority, and identifying obligations for the OMB;
- Considering options that move away from de novo hearings; and
- Obtaining views on when new rules should apply to planning matters in progress.
2. Citizen participation and local perspective:
- Increasing public education opportunities on OMB practices and procedures, and proposing a new user-friendly website; and
- Considering options to encourage citizen participation and to generally improve the OMB experience to ensure local perspective is heard, such as expanding and/or reconfiguring the Citizen Liaison Office, and exploring funding tools to help citizens retain their own planning experts and/or lawyers.
3. Clear and predictable decision-making:
- Increasing the number of OMB adjudicators and increasing training for adjudicators to ensure they possess the necessary skills; and
- Considering options for multi-member panels.
4. Modern procedures and faster decisions:
- Promoting a less formal and less adversarial culture at OMB hearings by considering changes to allow the OMB to adopt less complex and more accessible tribunal procedures, and allow active adjudication; and
- Considering ways to modernize procedures and promote faster decisions, including: setting appropriate timelines for decisions, increasing flexibility for how evidence can be heard, conducting more hearings in writing in appropriate cases, establishing clear rules for issues lists to ensure that hearings are focused and conducted in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible, and introducing maximum days allowed for hearings.
5. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and fewer hearings:
- Encouraging more land use disputes to be resolved using ADR, including: more actively promoting mediation, requiring all appeals to be considered by a mediator before scheduling a hearing, allowing government mediators to be available at all times during an application process, including before an application arrives at municipal council, in order to help reduce the number of appeals that go to the OMB, strengthening case management at the OMB to better scope issues in dispute and identify areas that can be resolved at pre-hearings and to further support OMB members during hearings, and creating timelines and targets for scheduling cases, including mediation.
A public consultation document has been prepared to support the OMB review and provide background information on Ontario's land use planning and appeal system. The consultation document sets out possible changes being considered to improve the OMB's role within the system, as organized under the five key themes noted above, and raises questions for consideration.
Any comments that are outside the scope of this consultation initiative will be either shared with the ministries or agencies responsible or considered as part of other possible future initiatives.