ABCA concerned with changes to Act
Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority joins Conservation Ontario in concerns with budget-bill changes to Conservation Authorities Act
Proposed Ontario changes in budget bill could have negative impact on watershed management
Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) has joined Conservation Ontario and conservation authorities across the province in expressing concern about some of Ontario’s proposed budget-bill changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. The provincial government proposed the changes in the Ontario budget bill on November 5, 2020. Conservation Ontario and Ontario’s conservation authorities are reviewing the potential impact of changes proposed in the bill.
“We are encouraged the Province has re-confirmed the purpose and objects of the Conservation Authorities Act but some of the proposed changes could have a significant negative impact on the ability of conservation authorities to fulfil their watershed responsibilities,” said Brian Horner, ABCA General Manager and Secretary-Treasurer.
Some changes could actually create more red tape and delay permit application approvals, according to Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario. Conservation Ontario is the association which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities. The budget bill (Bill 229) could limit the scope of ‘non-mandatory’ programs and services, add new Ministerial powers, and change rules for appointments to conservation authority boards of directors.
“Pandemic conditions this year have certainly reinforced how much we rely on a healthy environment for our own well-being,” Gavine said. “It’s important that conservation authorities are able to continue to protect our natural environment and ensure the safety of Ontario residents.”
The Province also proposed an amendment to the Planning Act which, if passed, would prohibit conservation authorities from appealing a municipal planning decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) or becoming a party to an appeal before LPAT. This provides less protection for the public, according to ABCA. Right now, the conservation authority provides independent advice to municipalities on natural hazard and other planning matters but the Province’s proposed budget bill will impair that ability, according to the conservation authority.
The Province of Ontario began review, in April of 2019, of the Conservation Authorities Act. The Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks hosted five consultation meetings across the province with invited representatives primarily from municipalities, conservation authorities and agriculture, landowner and development sectors. Conservation Ontario presented at the sessions. Conservation Ontario has been working with the development sector and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) to streamline client service approaches for conservation authorities to use when reviewing plan review and permit applications. The ongoing initiative has been well-received, Gavine said. Provincial changes to the conservation authority planning role could reduce protection, for Ontario residents, from natural hazards and increase the risk to them, according to Conservation Ontario.
“One of our main goals throughout this review has been to maintain the conservation authorities’ watershed-based approach to protecting people from natural hazards and ensuring the conservation of Ontario’s natural resources,” Gavine said. “Some of the changes will impact the conservation authorities’ ability to do so.”
The proposed amendments authorize the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to assume jurisdiction for certain permit applications in place of the conservation authority. This will add bureaucracy, slow down permitting, and it will reduce protection, for the public, from natural hazards such as flooding and erosion, according to conservation authorities. Proposed changes to the planning and permitting process could allow some individuals to circumvent checks and balances which currently protect the safe development of communities in a watershed. This provides less protection for property owners and their neighbours, according to conservation authorities.
The conservation authority uses enforcement and legal action as a last resort but, in order to protect people and property, there are times when stop-work orders are needed. The proposed provincial changes will prevent conservation authorities from issuing stop-work orders that protect people from significant threats and prevent negative impacts to flood plains, other natural hazard areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas.
As a result of these concerns, Ausable Bayfield Conservation is encouraging partner municipalities, residents throughout the jurisdiction and the conservation authority’s network of supporters to reach out to the Premier of Ontario; the Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks; the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing; the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry; and their local member of provincial parliament (MPP) over the next couple of weeks to request that they address the concerns outlined above, before the Bill is enacted.