Manitoba may create new board that could override Winnipeg land-use decisions

Planning review recommendations released a day before pre-election blackout

Manitoba should create a new quasi-judicial board with the power to second-guess City of Winnipeg land-use decisions, a provincial review of city planning, zoning and permitting recommends.

On Tuesday, the day before a pre-election blackout begins, the province unveiled 12 recommendations that flowed from a review of municipal land-use practices that characterized Winnipeg's planning, property and development department as dysfunctional.

The recommendations, released two weeks after the review itself was unveiled, include new provincial standards for accrediting inspectors, standardized timelines for issuing permits and ensuring Winnipeg sets water-and-sewer rates in line with provincial economic goals, potentially by having the Public Utilities Board set those rates.

The most politically explosive recommendation is to either create "a new quasi-judicial tribunal" or broaden the powers of the existing municipal board to "hear a wide range of planning, zoning and permitting appeals across the entire province."

Such a body would effectively allow provincial appointees to override land-use decisions made by city council. 

The province said this body would be made up of professionals "with strict minimum qualifications and an appointment process that mitigates against politicization."

The board would also follow practices identified as effective in other provinces and operate on a cost-recovery basis, the province said.

The province does not clarify specifically which appeals the body would hear.

In a news release, Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton said the recommendations were created after the city provided a "constructive response" to the review.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, who has dismissed the provincial review as a political move, said he needs time to review the recommendations before he can comment.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew panned the recommendations, opining Premier Brian Pallister is trying to interfere with the city.

"Some people feel like there's maybe too much bureaucracy, but now the province is saying the answer to that is another layer of bureaucracy," Kinew said.

Wharton said in a statement that is not the province's intent.

"This wouldn't take away land-use decisions from the city, but rather ensures that the decisions are made in accordance with municipalities' own planning and zoning requirements," he said. 

"This merely means that the appeal as to whether the decision was legally consistent with the city's own plans and bylaws are made by independent professionals."

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