A bill that drew criticism from municipal governments and opposition leaders quietly passed into law on May 20.
Bill 37, which amended the Planning Act, passed on May 20. At time of writing, it awaits royal consent before it takes effect.
The Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act gives the Municipal Board (a provincially appointed tribunal) jurisdiction to hear appeals of land-use decisions made by municipal governments or planning regions if, for instance, developers consider a ruling unfair.
Landowners and developers can also appeal to the board if the local government doesn’t deal with their application in a timely fashion.
Why it matters: Government officials and developers say a broken and outdated planning framework is costing the province time and money, but municipal councils fear landowners will abuse the right to take decisions over their head.
The law would also form the Winnipeg metropolitan area, including surrounding municipalities, into a single “Capital Planning Region” to co-ordinate development and infrastructure across that area.
During committee hearings mid-April, Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) president Kam Blight said that “giving the Municipal Board the power to override local decisions undermines the authority and autonomy of municipal officials.”
Blight said he was concerned landowners would fast-track appeals without sufficient grounds so they could circumvent local authorities.
Municipal leaders told the committee they feared their communities’ goals would be quashed by the needs of the planning region and that lengthy appeals would tie up staff and resources.
RM of Headingley Mayor John Mauseth said some residents thought the government was using the cover of the pandemic to pass unpopular legislation with little public scrutiny.
The changes are coming with very little public awareness, Mauseth said. Headingley council members spoke to residents who were not aware of Bill 37, and once made aware, were against the proposed changes.
“Do not underestimate the impact of the land-use decisions being made by the Municipal Board that are not supported by the local council or community,” Mauseth said. “The board’s decisions will be seen as the provincial government’s responsibility and interference with local decision-making.”
Developers, however, said the bill would bring about much-needed transparency and fairness.
“The current system leaves no right to seek fairness,” he said. “Bill 37 is a great step in the right direction,” said Mark Olson, president and CEO of Landstar Development Corporation.
Olson said his company has been embroiled in attempts to build a multi-family dwelling since 2016. The local government has dragged its heels and caused complications by changing bylaws midstream, he said.
Another developer told the government the capital planning region was needed to ensure the efficient use of infrastructure and to prevent inefficient ex-urban sprawl.
An outdated and broken planning system costs the provincial and municipal governments $2 million per day in lost revenue, former minister of municipal relations Rochelle Squires told AMM delegates in a meeting last November.
All 21 opposition MLAs voted against the bill. Matt Wiebe, the NDP municipal relations and infrastructure critic, called it “anti-democratic.”
“We see this bill as a bad bill,” Wiebe told the legislature on May 20. “It’s unfortunate that, you know, they refuse as a government to listen to those local elected officials.”
Dougald Lamont, Liberal leader, said it was clear that current methods of planning in the metro region are flawed, but said Bill 37 doesn’t solve many of the problems. He also said it may reduce people’s ability to participate in the democratic process.