Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Paul Bootsma, CFFO Field Service Manager
Last month Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro announced the end of the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) and introduced its replacement, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal or LPAT. The main reasons for the change are to give more decision-making power to the municipalities and to speed up the appeal process. Both are valid reasons. The new LPAT will have less power to overturn local government decisions. Hearings will also be quicker, relying only on written submissions without witness examinations. “Decisions will be written in plain language and made public,” said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi. What effect will the end of the OMB and the introduction of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal have on rural Ontario and farm businesses?
Developers and builders have expressed their concern with this move, but looking at how development has moved over the past decades they have had their opportunities. Even though I share some of their concerns, such as making decisions for winning votes, giving more emphasis on the local planning and development should in the long term be better for cities as well as rural towns and villages. Municipalities and the provincial government will need to conform their Official Plans so that there is consistency across the province but common sense locally. This will hopefully allow municipalities to develop in a manner that fits their unique characteristics and specific needs.
During the 2017 CFFO Policy Tour, CFFO members spoke about the need for more local decision making when it comes to municipal planning and development. There is concern that some development decisions do not originate locally but are motivated by outside influences, resulting in development that local residents do not see as fitting with the characteristics of their communities. This move by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs should be a welcome change in this direction.
However, farmers should not assume that it will be easier when it comes to obtaining development permits. Through the LPAT process other local voices also have the ability to contribute to decisions. I see a need for farmers to participate in those local bodies to express agriculture’s voice and needs before issues come to the LPAT hearings.
Local conservation authorities, public and private wildlife organizations, and environmental groups will all have the opportunity to provide written comments on applications for development. Rural Ontario needs to know how these groups view development. Being involved and having a positive relationship with them will be crucial when it comes to rural development decisions.
Agriculture needs to inform the LPAT that this industry only functions in rural Ontario and needs the confidence in the development permit process to allow farms to continue to grow. The new LPAT may be positive for farmers but only if they use it the right way. Local involvement may be the best solution when the new Local Planning Appeals Tribunal has hearings.