I have been following the municipal career of Mayor Tony Van Bynen long enough to know he talks the talk but doesn’t always walk the walk.    

The secretive retired banker says he wants to reform the OMB but what has he actually done to advance the cause? With the Province’s review of the OMB underway, now is the time to find out.

After spending $588,291 going to the OMB “to fight for Glenway” – and failing - he vowed he would work with others to bring real change to the municipal planning process.

Before the 2014 municipal election Van Bynen promised voters he would be:

“Bringing real change to the Ontario Municipal Board and the planning process.”

He pledged:

"Bringing reform to the Ontario Municipal Board and the Planning Act to ensure our residents have a say in shaping their community will be a priority in the next term. Our Council’s decision to fight for Glenway and defend our Town’s official plan was the right thing to do. I will be working with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and a number of mayors to meet with the Province to bring about real change to the municipal planning process.” (see note 2 below)

Promising the earth, delivering dust

So has Van Bynen delivered on his promise to voters?

I formally asked the Town if the Mayor had requested a meeting with the Province to discuss OMB reform at any time since the last election in 2014. I also asked for sight of any correspondence from Van Bynen to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario or to any of the Mayors of its 444 member municipalities on OMB reform from between October 28, 2014 to September 8, 2016. Town staff reported:

“We have conducted a search of our records and have not found any records that specifically indicate that Mayor Van Bynen has requested a meeting with the Province regarding OMB Reform or correspondence sent to AMO or its members on this topic.”

Maybe it was all done by word of mouth.

Maybe there is a mountain of evidence somewhere showing he has been closely engaged in the issue for years but I haven’t found it yet.

Maybe I am doing Tony Van Bynen a terrible disservice and he has been a prime mover, diligently working behind the scenes to advance his OMB Reform agenda

“to give residents a say in shaping their community”.

There has been at least one meeting, maybe more, with Chris Ballard. I don’t know who asked for it yet. But if it was Van Bynen – and we shall find out soon enough - it would be wildly out of character.

In fact, Van Bynen ceded leadership on OMB reform to Aurora whose energetic councillor, Tom Mrakas, organized a municipal summit on the issue earlier this year. Mrakas’ initiative was enthusiastically supported by Ward 7’s Christina Bisanz, a Glenway resident herself.

Van Bynen and the Clock Tower

As is the way of the man, Van Bynen kept what he learned from the Glenway debacle to himself except for this gem that slipped out when he was talking about the Clock Tower development:

“We’ve learned through Glenway that polarity doesn’t help anybody.”

Translated, this means Van Bynen doesn’t like saying no to developers even if it means ripping up the Town’s Heritage Conservation District policy.

“I’m optimistic we can make the Clock Tower work; there may need to be some fine tuning on how we get there.”

Van Bynen, intensification junkie that he is, desperately wants to help Bob Forrest get the go-ahead for his seven storey condo.

But if the Council, led by the Mayor, votes in favour of Forrest’s planning application the decision will be appealed to the OMB by the Newmarket Branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and other concerned residents.

As Van Bynen might have said, but didn’t…

Defending the Town’s Heritage Conservation District policy is the right thing to do.

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(Note 1) Disclosed following a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for access to:

“A record indicating if at any time since October 28, 2014 the Mayor has requested a meeting with the Province to discuss OMB reform and, if so, to provide dates and details. Correspondence from the Mayor to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario or to the Mayors of its member municipalities on OMB reform from October 28, 2014 to September 8, 2016.”

On 22 January 2015, Van Bynen passed on to Chris Ballard various reports that had been prepared by the Town and York Region on OMB reform. This was a follow-up to a meeting between Chris Ballard and Tony Van Bynen and the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer Bob Shelton.

On 28 August 2015, Van Bynen passes on to Chris Ballard a letter from the AMO.

On 14 July 2016, the Mayor’s assistant, Pat Noble, on behalf of the Mayor, passes on to Council colleagues a letter from the Minister on the OMB Review.

In all, there are six records. Details of three other records (listed below) cannot be disclosed until the third parties mentioned give their consent. “These third parties have until 27 October 2016 to provide comment regarding the release of the records.”

There are two emails from Chris Ballard MPP to the Mayor, dated 5 March and 28 August 2015. The former concerns “planning reforms” and the latter is an “update on Bill 73”.

On 28 August 2016, the Mayor received an email from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on the subject: “March GTHA Summit Summary Notes”. (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area Mayors’ and Chairs’ Summit)

You can read the documentation here.

(Note 2) Newmarket’s Director of Planning, the ineffectual Rick Nethery, subsequently contradicted Van Bynen by saying the Town did not go to the OMB to “defend the Town’s Official Plan”.

Update on 12 October 2016: I asked the Town who organised the meeting referred to above. I am told

"it was one of the quarterly meetings with Chris Ballard organised and initiated by the Mayor's Office".

The email continued:

"The Mayor and CAO often attend these meetings together to discuss various matters."

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