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September 10, 2019

December 9, 1994: The day planning came of age

On December 9, 2019, OPPI celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Registered Professional Planners (RPP) designation in Ontario. The work leading to that landmark 1994 designation began on November 24, 1989 in Toronto, when the late George Rich and Mark Dorfman disrupted the OPPI AGM and put forward a motion “That Council establish a working group to bring forward an application to the Ontario Legislature for a private bill recognizing OPPI and professional planners.” This was unanimously accepted by an excited group of younger planners who wanted legal professional recognition.
 
A Private Bill Working Group was tasked with the initial drafting and reviewing of the bill. The bill received royal assent and was passed into law as the Ontario Professional Planners Act on December 9, 1994, and with that, the RPP designation was legally recognized and protected.
 
Tony Usher, RPP, of Anthony Usher Planning Consultant and OPPI President from 1992 to 1994, and Mark Dorfman, FCIP, RPP, of Mark L. Dorfman Planner Inc., were instrumental in the passage of the Ontario Professional Planners Act of 1994.
 
Y Magazine: Was there a unified planner group prior to 1986 when OPPI was established? When did RPP designation become a mandate?
 
Anthony Usher Headshot
Tony Usher, RPP, of Anthony Usher Planning Consultant and former OPPI President

Usher: It is a fairly little-known fact that an Ontario-wide organization, the Institute of Professional Town Planners, was founded in 1948. This was folded into CIP (the Town Planning Institute of Canada) when CIP was revived in 1952.

From 1952 to 1970, TPIC members in Ontario had no separate corporate identity. In 1970, TPIC, or CIP as it soon became, established four affiliated chapters in Ontario: Central, Southwestern, Eastern, and Northern. The chapters cooperated at the leadership level, but there was no “unified” Ontario group.
 
Undoubtedly, Ontario planners started thinking about professional title protection and legal recognition as early as the first half of the 1960s, when their Québec and Saskatchewan colleagues were so recognized. However, those Ontario planners who thought seriously about professional recognition knew it was not a realistic objective until there was a single Ontario organization.
 
At the time of OPPI’s foundation in 1985-86, the priority reasons given for establishing the Institute did not include statutory recognition. However, I have no doubt this was in the minds of at least some of the founding directors, and it soon came to the fore once the Institute’s immediate organizational priorities had been accomplished.
 
Dorfman: In the mid to late 1960s, the Ontario Association of Planners existed as a pseudo affiliate of the CIP. I sat on the executive of this organization. However, it was not a membership-oriented organization.
 
In the 1960s and the 1970s, TPIC and CIP were held by members as their organizing body. In the late 1960s, TPIC navel-gazed and Gary Davidson and I produced the “Future of the Institute” report. The Canadian Institute of Planners was legally established in 1974.
 
Y Magazine: Thinking back to the period between 1986 and 1994, what were some of the key issues planners faced?
 City at Sunset
Usher: There is no definitive list. Many issues we think of as issues for today are the same issues as then, just in somewhat different clothing. What’s affordable housing? If for low-income and income-insecure people, the issue has always been with us. If for middle-income people (and one could argue about whether “affordable housing” should even be about those folks), yes, housing is less affordable than in the 80s, which is why we now have an elastic definition of “affordable housing” and politicians say their sole reason for existence is to benefit the “middle class.”
 
As for climate change, we know a good deal more about it today, but we knew enough in 1986 that the issue was staring in the face those who chose not to ignore it.
 
I would mention, though, in terms of issues specific to Ontario and specific to the 80s:
 
  • Lack of overall planning policy direction from the Province;
  • Lack of control over urban sprawl, or as we now would say, lack of growth management; and
  • Some environmental challenges were top of the list then and have been better addressed since, such as acid rain and surface water quality.
25-years-of-RPP_Mark-Dorfman-headshot.jpg
Mark Dorfman, RPP, FCIP, of Mark L. Dorfman Planner Inc. and first President of the Canadian Institute of Planners
 Dorfman: These were heady times. Growth seemed to be unlimited and, outside the Toronto orbit, municipalities were shaping their official planning policies. There were no provincial-led policies at that time. The Planning Act was under review with planners wondering where the profession was heading. In 1995, we were confronted with the “Comprehensive Set of Provincial Policy Statements” and, a year later, a much more sensible first Provincial Policy Statement was in effect.
 
Y Magazine: Are there any challenges that are likely always going to be challenges for planners?
 
Usher: How to manage change at a community, regional, and provincial level, when so much of it is dictated by environmental, economic, and social forces beyond those boundaries.
 
How to conduct and represent ourselves as expert advisors seeking accommodation among competing interests in a society increasingly distrustful of experts and elite accommodation.
 
How to conduct ourselves professionally. As I wrote in the Nov-Dec 2017 Ontario Planning Journal (OPJ), “[our] sense of belonging to a profession and what that means are much more profoundly understood now than when I started out.” But that has barely kept pace with society’s changing expectations of professionals generally and planning professionals specifically.
 
Some changes since 1994, and more broadly since the 1970s, have had virtually nothing to do with self-regulation and professional recognition, the most obvious being the technological revolution in how we undertake the business of planning.
 
Dorfman: Planners must focus on how to be “able and willing to acknowledge that we are independent and objective experts.” Since the role and rules of the L.P.A.T have changed, we are obliged to embrace independence in our daily vocation. Our moral obligation in the Code of Ethics is to “provide independent professional opinion to clients, employers, the public, and tribunals; perform work only within their areas of professional competence.” If not the Tribunal, then to the public and clients!
 
RPP StampY Magazine: While achieving RPP designation was a monumental accomplishment for the profession, it also meant the work of self-governing the profession began. Can you comment on that?
 
Usher: The self-government of a profession will always be a work in progress. Look at the struggles of the over-200-years-old Law Society over its new statement of principles, that were widely reported in summer 2019. The fact that we have been working for 10 years on a ramping-up of our 1994 legislation, and went through a lot of soul-searching and changes of direction in the path leading up to first introduction of the legislation in 2017, testifies to the fact that the self-regulation of the planning profession is its own particular work-in-progress.
 
Dorfman: OPPI is an organization that will continue to advance professional transparency and responsibility. This is a paramount objective. In my opinion, individual members who practice under this umbrella should understand that this is our vocation.
 
Y Magazine: How has the influence of the profession changed?
 
Usher: There is no doubt that the Ontario Professional Planners Act put the organized profession and its members on the map, more than before. Over time, legislative recognition, title protection, and licensing have enhanced the status and standing of the profession and of OPPI membership, and in turn, that has conferred greater legitimacy on what we have to say corporately and individually.
 
In broader terms, has the influence of planning as an activity seeking to better society waxed or waned? There are so many competing forces, I find it impossible to say. For every example of how what planners say and do is more influential than it was in the 1990s, I could come up with another example of how it is less.
 
Also, conferring greater legitimacy on what we have to say corporately and individually only goes as far as the willingness of the corporation and the individual members to speak. No speak, no influence. There are worrying trends at both levels. The corporation (OPPI) is currently on a course where it seems less willing to speak or to speak out. That could lead to a corporate loss of influence. And our individual members, particularly those in the public sector, are unfortunately subject to a whole range of political and social pressures that were not as present or as well-developed in 1994 that keep many, I think more, of them from feeling they can speak “truth to power.”
 
Dorfman: I agree with Tony. The danger is that OPPI falls into the trap of becoming a lobby organization, or worse, that we continue to respond to the provincial government’s agenda. I know that OPPI is working very hard to establish its own agenda for planning policy in Ontario. All of us must focus on this going forward. Members must participate in this effort, otherwise we will be silent.
 
Y Magazine: What advice do you have for planners, especially younger planners?
 
Usher: I am no more qualified to offer such advice than anyone else. Perhaps less so at my age and stage of practice. I cannot add to what I wrote in the Nov-Dec 2017 OPJ:

“Planners and decision-makers are confronting more and faster changes. But our ability to respond to them is, if anything, getting slower. We have so bureaucratized and complicated how we do things, that we are often responding effectively to phenomena that appeared 10 or 20 years ago and are now far behind us. We must figure out how to respond and adapt faster, or we will drown in change.
 
“We are so fortunate to live here in Ontario. As yet, we seem to be relatively unaffected by the rising tide of ignorance, intolerance, hysteria, xenophobia, and tyranny that threatens the bastions of democracy and inclusiveness elsewhere. But we must keep swimming against that rising tide, no matter how hard it may run in the future.
 
“Our responsibility as professionals is to maintain our core values in everything we do. Our job is to help build and enhance communities that are inclusive, healthy, and sustainable in every respect. And our obligation is not to do, or not to support, anything that goes against that.”
 
Dorfman: I have been a member of this profession since 1969. When I was a “young” planner, I wanted change in the profession. We debated at length about who we were and whether we were confined by “land use planning”. Nationally, planners were healthfully divided and held some very strong positions about ourselves. In the early 70s, we lost several members who decided they did not want to belong to a regimented organization. We have managed to mature and to still hold different views of planning and how we practice. We are at least together.
 
It is essential that we do not slavishly abide by the rules of the professional organization and government institutions. Ours is a vocation that gives us the freedom to think and practice “outside the box.”
 
We need to remind ourselves where we came from (heritage and values); be clear about where we are today; and figure out where we are going in time and space (the vision). We should measure progress at the scale of the community, invoking a sense of equality of choice.  
 
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A portion of this interview with Tony Usher and Mark Dorfman is published in the fall 2019 issue of OPPI’s Y Magazine.

Post by Carolyn Camilleri

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