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Cambridge won't support call to dissolve Ontario Land Tribunal

'Really what it comes down to is we need to have our decisions reflect the will of the community'
Screenshot 2022-05-20 11.32.46 AM
The view outside the Ontario Land Tribunal office on Bay Street in Toronto.

The City of Cambridge won’t be joining other municipalities across the province in calling for the dissolution of the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).

Coun. Jan Liggett’s motion asking the province to start from scratch in providing an appeal process for land developers and ordinary citizens who don’t agree with council decisions failed to get enough votes during Tuesday’s meeting.

Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas is leading the push to dissolve the OLT and has the backing of close to 70 municipalities so far, all of them frustrated with seeing local planning decisions overturned.

Liggett is among them, frustrated with watching “millions of dollars of taxpayer resources developing official plans that meet current provincial planning policy” get overturned by what she and others feel is an unfair process; a process that circumvents local planning decisions and is not accountable to the residents of Cambridge.

She also fears allowing the OLT to continue as is will hinder the provincial housing task force’s goal of adding 1.5 million new homes to the province over the next 10 years.

Liggett said the city’s and region’s official plans take months to develop in consultation with residents and include zoning provisions that encourage development of the missing middle, or gentle density, to meet the need for attainable housing in our community.

The OLT, she said, is an unelected appointed body that is not accountable to the residents of Cambridge, but “has the authority to make a final decision based on the best planning outcome and not whether the proposed development is in compliance with municipal official plans.”

“Ontario is the only province in Canada that empowers a separate adjudicated tribunal to review and overrule local decisions applying provincially approved plans,” she said.

She's also upset with the repeated costs the city faces in defending their official plans at the OLT.

“The City of Cambridge requests the Government of Ontario to dissolve the OLT immediately, thereby eliminating one of the most significant sources of red tape delaying the development of more attainable housing in Ontario,” she said.

Coincidentally, the vote on Liggett’s motion came on the same night council decided to reverse its decision on the controversial Blair mega warehouse, in part because of an appeal launched by the developer to the OLT and concerns about how much the city would have to spend in lawyer and consultant fees only to see it approved.

Coun. Nicholas Ermeta said he seconded the motion because he believes the municipality should be determining its “own density but also their own destiny.”

“We are the closest to the people and when we plan for future growth we end up looking at the amount of land that is needed to meet the provincial population forecast, so a lot of that is taken into consideration and a lot of that is accommodated,” he said.

Ermeta was in agreement that he doesn’t like seeing money wasted on official plans only to have council decisions struck down.

“It’s a waste of money and also not good for democracy,” he said.

He believes an alternate body could be put in place to serve that function.

“Really what it comes down to is we need to have our decisions reflect the will of the community.”

Coun. Pam Wolf initially said she supported the motion, hoping “the third time’s the charm” in replacing the OLT, which replaced the similarly troubled Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and the Ontario Municipal Board, each within the past few years..

Curiously, however, she voted against the motion when the vote was called.

Coun. Shannon Adshade, who earlier in the evening voiced his concern about the cost of trying to fight an appeal by Broccolin Real Estate Group for the Blair mega warehouse, said he is in full support of the motion, adding he doesn’t think the OLT knows local communities and “only looks at planning outcomes.”

“I believe whenever you bring decision making power closer to local government and not making it farther away, I think it’s a great thing, for citizens, democracy and planning process,” said Coun. Scott Hamilton in supporting the motion.

Mayor Kathryn McGarry said in a recent summit with the big city mayors, several issues with the OLT were discussed, particularly around the backlog. 

But she said she doesn’t support the motion as is because she doesn’t “believe that we should leave our citizens without an appeal process.”

The same idea concerned Coun. Mike Mann, who said he couldn’t support it without knowing a public appeal process was in place.

McGarry said recent OLT appeals from Cambridge are overwhelmingly because council has voted against a staff recommendation and in some cases the city’s own official plan.

“It would leave our citizens here in the community without an appeal body,” she said.

Instead of calling to dissolve it, McGarry wants to wait to see what the new provincial government does to correct it, knowing one of the biggest problems at the OLT is the red tape created by a lack of resources, a problem that has created a waiting list of anywhere from six to 12 months.

Coun. Donna Reid echoed McGarry’s concern, saying she feels it’s “extremely important” that citizens have an avenue of appeal if they don’t agree with a council decision.

She added she’s not against the motion itself, but thinks it’s too soon. She then voted to defer the motion, but that vote failed in a tie.

“No government in their right mind would dissolve a body like this without having a replacement in there,” Liggett reiterated, explaining the motion asks the government to dissolve the OLT as it exists now, not that it be dissolved without an alternative appeal process in place.

With Coun. Mike Devine absent, the motion failed in a tie.

“Since that motion has failed, I think it’s certainly worth a discussion once the new government’s formed and we see where that direction is going,” McGarry said.