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Guelph councillors heading to summit calling for OMB reform

Municipalities across the province are calling for a reduction in amount of power the Ontario Municipal Board currently wields
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20160201 Guelph City Hall Council Chambers KA

Several Guelph city councillors will be joining 150 other elected municipal officials on Saturday in a summit to promote reform of the Ontario Municipal Board.

Councillors Cathy Downer, Phil Allt, Mark MacKinnon, June Hofland and possibly Karl Wettstein will be in Aurora to attend the Municipal Summit on OMB reform.

Municipalities throughout the province are trying to encourage the provincial government to make changes that put more power back in the hands of municipalities and away from the regulatory board.

"We need to educate the province on what a problem it is for municipalities," Downer said.

The OMB was formed in 1906, in large part to help regulate and coordinate the burgeoning rail system. These days it governs land use matters, where developers, corporations and individuals can appeal decisions made by municipal governments.

It has also become an extremely time consuming, complex and at times expensive process.

"No other province has a tribunal that has this much jurisdiction," Downer says. "They have some appeals for some planning matters, but nothing like the OMB."

The province is currently in the process of reviewing the role of the OMB and municipalities want to make sure that any forthcoming changes are significant ones.

"It's not accessible for all," Downey said. "It's become more like a court, where you have to have lawyers and expert witnesses. It's just too expensive for citizens and community groups to participate in."

Downer is interested in hearing what former OMB chairperson Helen Cooper has to say when she speaks at this weekend's summit.

"Certainly the province understands that it needs to change ... but we're concerned that there won't be enough change. That it will just be tweaking," Downer said.

She said the OMB ends up costing municipalities a "horrendous" amount and can handcuff them in planning issues.

Guelph's official plan has been tied up at the OMB since it was approved by the province in 2013.

"It feels undemocratic," said Downer of the fact the OMB can change and hold up decisions made by municipalities after all sorts of consultation and investigation.

"I think the goal from the summit is to create a unified voice," she said.

Recommendations from the summit will go to the meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario later this summer. They hope to see some significant changes put in place within a year.




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