May a scarcity of metropolis planners hamper Ontario’s warfare on the housing disaster?

Ontario needs — and wants — to build a lot more housing. But it might not have enough people to plan it.

City planner job postings have “at least” doubled in recent years from normal levels, according to Susan Wiggins, the head of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI).

She said the OPPI’s job site saw 600 planner postings last year.

Just like nurses, construction workers, and basically every other job, the supply of city planners is too low, Wiggins said, putting up roadblocks for housing before it can even be built.

READ MORE: Ontario is far behind the rest of Canada in per-capita housing supply: report

Many left the industry or retired during the pandemic, and not enough are coming up to replace them. And as cities and towns look to battle the housing crisis by building more units, the demand has shot up, she said.

Another issue is the rising cost of living. Toronto’s own city planners can’t afford to live there. A staff report suggests the city pay them more to compete with the private sector.

Wiggins doesn’t see pay as the main issue. Planners are generally well compensated whether they work in the private or public sector, she said.

But while students of yore could choose to work for either a developer or a city, nowadays there’s far more choice, she said.

Sixty per cent of OPPI’s membership works for municipalities, “but there’s also transportation planners and environmental planners, people focused on the climate change conversation, people specializing in growth plans for municipalities and doing official plans,” she said.

Conservation authorities, developers, Crown agencies, and private firms big and small all need planners, she said.

“I was at the national conference in the summer … and I’m like, wow, there’s two guys here from Loblaws. And so we now have that category,” she said.

The Ford government’s new Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act won’t help matters, since mayors will have the final say about who gets hired, instead of council, Wiggins said.

READ MORE: Ford government passes strong mayors bill

She said politicizing the role could conflict with planners’ code of ethics, which has them recommend options to council — not carry out the whims of its leader.

“It will be more challenging for them,” she said. “It’s hard to have an unbiased opinion if the mayor is appointing the person.”

Wiggins said she’s working on recommendations for the provincial government. The OPPI recently met with Ontario universities that offer planning courses to brainstorm, and is in “early” discussions with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, too, she said.

The “long game” — just like with nursing and the skilled trades — is getting more people interested in the career path, she said.

In the short term, one idea is a marketing scheme aimed at current planners to go municipal — but “every option” is on the table, she said.

“You know, there’s foreign-trained professionals. There’s the current standards, which we’re reviewing…. Do we have enough capacity in the schools?” she said.

“Do we need another program? Do we need some part-time opportunities for people to take their current degree and move over to planning?”

READ MORE: Strong-mayor plan could politicize, slow down housing approvals, experts say

Wiggins said she’s meeting with her provincial counterparts this weekend to firm up a list of proposals for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark. But she said she’s brought up the issue with his chief of staff, who was “intrigued by the fact that we’re thinking about some opportunities,” and promised to bring it up with Clark.

According to Outlook’s read receipts, Clark’s spokesperson saw QP Briefing’s questions about the lack of city planners but did not respond.

Opposition MPPs said the strong-mayor bill was a missed opportunity to address the lack of planners.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the government should give municipalities more for more staff to keep up with a faster pace of housing approvals.

NDP municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch said the Tories could’ve heard planners’ concerns if they’d consulted with them about the bill. Allowing mayors to hire and fire planners “takes that objectivity and professionalism out of the hiring process,” he added.

READ MORE: Opposition grills Clark on lack of strong mayors consultation

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