AMBM President Ivan Normandeau delivered the following address to the Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba on Bill 37, The Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act on April 19, 2021:

Ladies and gentlemen of the Standing Committee,

First of all, on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities, the AMBM, I would like to thank you for welcoming me to present the views of the bilingual municipal leadership with respect to Bill 37 of the Province of Manitoba.

Since the 1980s, the AMBM has been the voice of bilingual municipal leadership in the province of Manitoba. Our association represents 15 local governments committed to providing services in both official languages to their citizens.

This is how the City of Winnipeg and our 14 other rural members are actively contributing to the development of Official Language Minority Communities (OLMCs) in the province.

The AMBM also owns two subsidiaries.

First, the Conseil de développement économique des municipalités bilingues du Manitoba (CDEM), which has been serving economic development and entrepreneurship since 1996.

Second, Eco-West Canada supports small and medium-sized municipalities in the implementation of green economy strategies.

As communicated in my letter of June 4, 2020, to the Minister of Municipal Relations (then Madam Rochelle Squires), the AMBM is supportive of the advocacy efforts of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) and the City of Winnipeg with respect to this proposed legislation to amend The Planning Act and The City of Winnipeg Charter.

My comments today will be specific to the current text of Bill 37 and will aim to obtain further clarity on certain aspects of the bill.

Land use planning is the combined work of governments, particularly the provincial and municipal levels. Two complementary levels of government playing different roles in a complex process, in partnership with the private sector that innovates, takes risks and generates economic activity on the territory.

The AMBM has several concerns about this bill.

Like you, I am sure, our members agree that land development must be done in an effective, efficient and coherent manner. But we believe that the implementation of such legislation would increase bureaucracy and therefore financial and administrative costs accordingly.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more than ever, private and community sector projects will be key to reviving our economy. But we must be able to assure our communities that these initiatives are supported by transparent and democratic processes.

The government proposes that appeals of decisions be heard before the Municipal Board.

Instead, the AMBM and AMM propose that disputes be resolved at the local/municipal level to effectively find solutions and reach certain agreements (e.g. between developers and municipalities). This is the very principle of subsidiarity in action.

We believe that the appeal mechanism, as proposed by the government, will have major implications.

First, it risks discrediting the raison d’être of our local governments.

Second, it is contrary to the principle of self-determination of our communities, which have the right to act on their own economic, social and cultural development.

After all, local governments are in the best position to find mutually beneficial solutions and thereby to fully play their subsidiary role.

In addition, we question the resources of the Municipal Board and its knowledge of local issues in our municipalities.

We are concerned about the accumulation of delays in processing appeals. In Manitoba, it takes 120 days to hear an appeal and 60 days to get a decision. Total: 210 days (combined with the longer filing window). In Alberta, it is 75 days. In Nova Scotia, it is 51 days.

The province’s proposed model allows 30 days to file an appeal of a decision. That is double the time provided by other Canadian provinces. One could easily feel powerless in the face of such a centralized bureaucracy.

I am confident that the Province does not wish to reduce the access of our people to be heard and to actively participate in the future of their community.

In this matter, we also want to ensure that our Francophone and Métis Francophones will be able to contribute fully to community and economic life. That their voices will be heard easily and effectively in the development of infrastructure that meets their needs and issues.

We are also concerned that the government’s proposed model lacks a mediation mechanism, that its lack of clarity leads to frivolous requests for appeals, and that the lack of limits on the scope of appeals opens the door to abuse.

In closing, we agree with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) that the Manitoba government should look more closely at practices in other provinces and clarify the scope and parameters of appeals in legislation rather than regulation.

In summary, the AMBM, like the AMM, recommends that you make the following amendments to the Manitoba government’s Bill 37:

  1. Require that anyone filing an appeal state the cause of the appeal in the filing form.
  2. Limit the grounds of appeal that are admissible, to be consistent with the legislation in other provinces.
  3. Limit appeals to those already in the process, as in Ontario.
  4. Limit the scope of appeal decisions made by the Municipal Board so that it cannot “become a new level of government” by writing new regulations or imposing new costs.
  5. Reduce appeal timeframes by drawing on standards in other provinces.
  6. Impose accountability measures on the Municipal Board in the event that delays in hearing or closing appeals result in significant delays.

And let me add a seventh recommendation. That the Province, in implementing Bill 37, and in partnership with the municipalities, commit to working in collaboration with the AMBM and the OLMCs on regional land use planning, based on common objectives and interests, to ensure their continued economic and community development.

In closing, I would like to emphasize that the provincial government is an essential partner for us.

The Pallister government is known for its pragmatic and common sense approach.

For all of these reasons, I am confident that you will receive with great consideration the recommendations made by the AMBM and our great ally, the AMM.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and thank you for your attention.

Information: Justin Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, 204-289-4077, [email protected]

AMBM President’s Address on Bill 37, The Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act