Chipman, John George, and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. A Law Unto Itself: How the Ontario Municipal Board has Developed and Applied Land Use Planning Policy.
Article Type: Book Review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Finnigan, Darryl
Pub Date: 12/22/2003
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2003 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: A Law Unto Itself: How the Ontario Municipal Board has Developed and Applied Land Use Planning Policy (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Chipman, John George; Institute of Public Administration of Canada
Accession Number: 115498164
Full Text: Chipman, John George, and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada A Law Unto Itself How the Ontario Municipal Board has Developed and Applied Land Use Planning Policy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8020-3625-2 259 pp.

When is a government institution no longer relevant? In the case of the Ontario Municipal Board, author John Chipman, an independent scholar and practitioner of land use planning law in Toronto, sets out to answer this question by evaluating 870 decisions made by the OMB during the periods 1971-1978, 1987-1994, and 1995-2000. More specifically, Chipman tries to ascertain whether the OMB is an institution that is still needed as a planning appeal tribunal.

By way of background, the OMB was formed in 1006 and was originally meant to reduce time spent by politicians and judges examining municipal affairs. Today, "the Board" mainly exists to hear appeals of municipal land use decisions. Provincial cabinet has always appointed the members of the tribunal, most of whom are lawyers. Other provinces in Canada have also created tribunals to make land use decisions. None however are as powerful as the OMB, which has jurisdiction over 100 pieces of planning legislation, not the least of which is Ontario's Planning Act.

The book is structured into six chapters. Empirical evidence is presented throughout to examine various types of decisions made by the OMB. Chipman begins to answer his question by arguing that the OMB has not adequately balanced the two interests--public and private--that it was meant to serve. The board's common law approach to decisions favours private landowners for the most part, and the empirical evidence supports his case.

Chipman examines how the OMB bas applied provincial policies and statutes to decisions where these policies have existed. He suggests that Ontario has never had very explicit land use planning policies, and thus the OMB has ended up making decisions in an ad hoc manner. This ad hoc approach is really the only thing that has been consistent in OMB decisions, and it suggests that the board has in fact developed its own policies. This is central to Chipman's argument that the OMB has exceeded its statutory duty. He also assesses cases where provincial policies applicable to many of the OMB's decisions did in fact exist, but were largely ignored. For example, policies designed to protect agricultural lands, or promote social housing, did not seem to influence the board or adequately succeed in protecting public interests.

Chipman also contends that the province has had a difficult time influencing decisions where provincial policy should have been considered. He states that this is not surprising, since no government has ever effectively challenged the OMB's authority or its independent nature. Thus, the OMB is "a free-standing tribunal, one which pays lip service to public policy"(p 192). The board has only managed to makes the planning process more complex, more time consuming, and more costly. Worse still, planning decisions have been placed in the hands of appointed officials with little accountability. These decisions would be better left with elected municipal decision-makers. Cities have matured to the point where planning power must be more fully devolved. Now that most municipalities in Ontario have well-developed official plans, the role of the OMB has been greatly diminished. In short, the OMB has failed to take the opportunity presented to it to act as an impartial tribunal that could apply public policies to decisions. Chipman concludes that the usefulness of the OMB has diminished to the point where it should be greatly reduced in its powers, if not altogether abolished--this institution is no longer relevant.

The need to link empirical analyses with normative theories in planning and other social sciences is both a necessary and arduous task. Empirical studies must be clear enough to allow scholars and practitioners alike to evaluate whether or not a planning theory is verifiable. Therefore, empirical studies should maintain a balance of theoretical background and empirical data. This book succeeds in providing an adequate amount of the former, and a less than adequate presentation of the latter. The level of detail varies between sections where there is so much as to be confusing and onerous to the reader, and sections where more background on the decision would be useful. Furthermore, the presentation of the data itself is not always clear. For example, when exploring what is meant by the public interest, Chipman refers to decisions such as "Caledon East". Without knowing the specifics of the Caledon East decision, evaluating the degree to which the OMB favoured the public interest proves difficult. Supplementary notes at the back of the book are not always sufficient in this regard. Although the data are not always presented as eloquently or as clearly as one might hope, ultimately the weight of empirical evidence presented is very persuasive that the public interest has not been served.

Chipman's book then is a useful analysis of the data but limited in its scope. Without the context of the decisions and an in-depth analysis of the other contributing factors to the decisions, conclusions should be drawn with caution. The author readily admits to many of the limitations of the research, and suggests areas that could be more appropriately examined in separate analyses. However, the sheer volume of decisions summarized by Chipman and the way in which they are broken down is in itself enormously useful. What might have made this book more effective is a more balanced approach that provided more background on the decisions, or else separate case studies within each chapter. This book will appeal to those who have some interest in the OMB itself, but also to politicians, developers, public interest groups, and scholars wanting to better understand land use planning and public participation at the municipal and regional levels in Ontario.

Darryl Finnigan

School of Planning

University of Waterloo
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.