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Get me more planners, Housing minister tells cabinet colleagues

Municipal planning staff shortages are hitting cities across the province
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark answers questions after an announcement in the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton is used to working for workers, but Housing Minister Steve Clark hopes he can start planning for planners. 

At a recent committee meeting to go over the latest housing bill, Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants, Clark said there's a shortage of city planners and wants his cabinet colleagues' help in solving the problem. 

"I had a recent meeting with the (Ontario Professional Planners Institute) and I'm quite concerned that we don't have enough planners, and I've written to Minister McNaughton and (Colleges and Universities) Minister (Jill) Dunlop suggesting that we get a plan in place to have more planners. I think we especially need to have a planning program in northern Ontario," he said 

The letters, obtained by The Trillium, paint a fairly grim picture of Ontario's planning workforce. 

According to data from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) presented to Clark during an April 19 meeting, there are about 150 job openings in Toronto alone. About 750 positions are posted on the OPPI job board each year, the letter said. 

The OPPI did not respond to The Trillium's questions by filing deadline. 

"Ontario's supply of professional planners is not keeping up with demand," Clark wrote to his cabinet colleagues. "Last year, planning programs in Ontario universities graduated just 439 planners — 185 with Bachelor's degrees, 246 with Master's degrees and eight with PhDs."

"This falls far short of the number of annual job openings and means Ontario faces a growing shortage of professional planners, which presents significant challenges as we seek to fulfil our commitment of 1.5 million homes by 2031," Clark wrote in the letter. 

On May 10, Clark asked McNaughton and Dunlop to meet with the OPPI "in the coming weeks" to see how their departments could help. 

For McNaughton, that could mean looking at ways he could "make it easier to recognize and accredit professional planners who have been trained in jurisdictions outside of the province," Clark wrote. It would dovetail nicely with the work McNaughton's done to get more health-care professionals and skilled trades workers, Clark said. 

McNaughton's 2021 Working for Workers bill, which directed some professional regulatory bodies to do away with Canadian work experience requirements, didn't cover planners. 

For Dunlop, it could be "expanding existing planning programs in universities across Ontario as well as adding additional programs in areas that have traditionally been underserved."  

On Tuesday, McNaughton addressed the request. 

"We're certainly working with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing on that, as well as municipal partners across Ontario. There's labour shortages in almost every profession across the province," he said at an unrelated announcement on removing Canadian work experience requirements for engineers. 

The government's "moving as quickly as possible," on the issue, McNaughton said, because "it really is all hands on deck to build those 1.5 million homes." 

As with other sectors — like the skilled trades — facing labour shortages, the province could use its newly-won powers over immigration to fill some planning positions, McNaughton mused. 

"We really want to use immigration strategically to fill labour shortages in communities across the province," he said. 

Earlier this year, the federal government gave Ontario a bigger say in choosing which economic immigrants come to the province every year through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program. In 2022, the province could choose just over 9,000 economic immigrants through the program, but it's increasing to 18,000 by 2025. Almost half the spots in 2022 went to skilled trades workers.  

Developers, industry associations, and city planners themselves have been sounding the alarm on labour shortages for quite a while. 

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), a nationwide professional organization, "is aware of and monitoring the shortage of planners across the country and internationally," said CIP CEO Beth McMahon in a statement to The Trillium

"In addition to anecdotal information, this trend is evident from the increase in job postings on CIP’s National Job Board, which rose by 78 per cent from 2020 to 2021, and then by an additional 53 per cent from 2021 to 2022," McMahon continued. The CIP has been taking steps, like providing bursaries and scholarships, to help remedy the shortage, she said.  

"Municipal staffing in planning departments have increased only marginally over the past two years," according to a 2022 report by the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) that looked at several factors contributing to Ontario's housing woes. Since 2018, however, some cities have hired more planners compared to other positions.

Since 2018, some municipalities have bolstered planning departments by 1.7 per cent, compared to under one per cent for other departments, the study found. 

"This implies that municipalities appear to be prioritizing increased staffing levels for planning departments, although the relative changes may have also been the result of difficulty hiring in other municipal departments."

The same report found that, on average, planners make up about three per cent of a municipality's workforce. That can range from as low as 1.5 per cent in Oshawa to as high as 8.8 per cent in Caledon. 

In April 2022, Toronto's planning department prepared a report on vacancies. At that time, the city had about 60 unfilled positions in the 477-person department, good for a vacancy rate of nearly 13 per cent. An aging workforce, low pay, high cost of living, and work/life balance were some of the main reasons behind the shortage, the report found. 

A good chunk of the department's staff is also fairly new, with about 25 per cent of Toronto's planners having been hired since 2020. 

In London, the vacancy rate is even higher at 15 per cent. 

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell thinks the shortage is a huge problem. 

"We need a better plan to recruit and keep qualified planners in Ontario, as well as workers across the trades and construction sectors. The worker shortage is real, and it’s harming Ontario’s ability to build enough homes for current and future residents," she said in an emailed statement to The Trillium

For Liberal MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon, planner shortages were a big headache during her time on Toronto city council. 

"Developers are complaining about time lags, councillors are upset, people had put down payments on condos and people are looking for apartments," she said. There's "all these empty, dilapidated sites waiting for approvals that take a while, but you need to do it right." 

"Had we had the people power there to do it, we could have pushed through a bunch more applications in a more timely fashion," she said.  


Aidan Chamandy

About the Author: Aidan Chamandy

Aidan Chamandy specializes in energy and housing. He can usually be found looking for government documents on obscure websites and filing freedom-of-information requests. He hosts and produces podcasts. Reach him anytime at [email protected].
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