Mayor Jim Watson says the Ontario Municipal Board is needed for democracy after six councillors send a letter to the province suggesting its powers be limited.
By Emma Jackson, Metro
Like it or not, Ottawa needs the Ontario Municipal Board, Mayor Jim Watson said Wednesday.
"In a democratic society, you need some mechanism to appeal a decision, and if it's not the OMB, it's the court system, which is significantly more expensive," Watson said after council. "Are there ways to improve it? Certainly. But not throwing it out, because you need to have some mechanism for people to appeal a bad decision by city council."
Watson's comments follow a letter sent by six Ottawa city councillors to the province suggesting the unelected municipal appeals body, if not outright abolished, should be limited to judicial review when dealing with the planning decisions of major cities.
Councillors Riley Brockington, Jeff Leiper, Catherine McKenney, Mathieu Fleury, Tobi Nussbaum and David Chernushenko sent the letter to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs last week as part of the province's ongoing review of the board, which can overturn council decisions, including parts of the Official Plan.
The councillors argued that large municipalities like Ottawa spend millions each year on transportation and land-use planning and employ experts in those fields, but the threat of an OMB appeal can undermine how vigorously staff pursue the city's goals.
"Even where a municipality may wish to deny a zoning application, the uncertainly and cost associated with appeals may lead decision-makers down the path of least resistance," the letter said.
Leiper said they all recognize the need for oversight, but the OMB may not be the answer anymore.
The councillors also argued the status quo "freezes out community participation," and suggested that, if the OMB does remain, the province should help residents participate more fully in the hearings.
It can cost community associations $40,000 or more to hire legal and planning help, and the councillors suggested the province consider financial support for groups tackling issues of public interest.