P.E.I. lawyer says IRAC plays important role with municipalities

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 18, 2016

Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission

The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission serves an important role, says a Charlottetown lawyer.

Jonathan Coady said there is nothing unique about IRAC; almost every province has a board set up to review decisions made by municipal councils.

"There are tribunals throughout the country performing the same function and reviewing municipal decisions,'' Coady said on Tuesday.

Charlottetown city council has passed a resolution asking the provincial government to amend legislation taking IRAC's power to overturn their decisions away.

No one at IRAC wanted to respond to the story about council's vote, so The Guardian interviewed a lawyer who has appeared before the commission on numerous occasions, representing both sides.

"These tribunals provide an important safeguard for all property owners. They ensure that planning and development decisions will be fair and merit-based. It is a legitimate function in our legal system.''

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Over the past decade, of the 6,500 building permits issued by Charlottetown's planning department, 20 have been appealed to IRAC.

Half of those cases went to a hearing and five decisions were overturned.

Mayor Clifford Lee argues it doesn't make sense for an unelected regulatory body to overrule an elected council.

He added that councillors have to take into account the views of the residents they represent, as well as the developers who are trying to get projects off the ground.

Coady said tribunals like IRAC give the public an efficient and economical alternative to the court process, which tends to operate slower and not be as familiar with municipal planning issues.

"Municipal councils are entrusted with a wide range of duties. They wear many hats. But the legal constraints on a council differ, depending upon the type of decision being made.''

He said the ability to make a planning decision, for example, is given to a council by the legislature under the Planning Act.

It is statutory, not a political, duty.

"For that reason, the law requires councils to act in a quasi-judicial or court-like manner.''

Coady said that planning decisions affect the right of a land owner to develop property and given the importance of that interest, the law requires more from a municipal council than simply a 'yes' or 'no'.

"It requires fairness, accountability and a decision grounded in planning principles, as opposed to political concerns.''