Former NPCA CAO weighs in on proposed changes to Conservation Act
Proposed changes to the Conservation Act announced by the Ford government in the budget earlier this month are continuing to raise some red flags.
Included in last week's provincial budget, a move that environmentalists say will limit the powers of Conservation authorities, like the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), to stop development on protected lands.
Among some of the proposed changes a move that could limit the authorities' ability to permit or deny development on lands, will prevent them from issuing stop work orders when there are violations and a requirement that all board members are to be elected councillors.
Former Interim CAO of the NPCA Gayle Wood says there are a number of issues of concern "We were having a good conversations with the provincial government, when I was there believing they were going to allow authorities to have stop work orders if there is a violation in a flood plain, that all seems to be rolled back as part of this proposed legislation."
Niagara residents voiced several concerns over the past few years about the boards makeup calling for less elected officials and more citizien representation.
Following the last municipal election that make up did change, but Wood says the proposed changes don't seem to support that.
"The authority's model was set up so that no matter who you were citizen, municipally elected, you acted on the better interest of the watershed. And if you are making a decision in your municipality about a development and you're making that same decision on the Conservation Authority board that's a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interst. And although it mentions an agricultural representive should be on the board, it does mention that, there is no mention at all of idigenous appointments to authorities and that's something we need to be taking into consideration moving forward.
Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch has written a letter to the Ford Government asking them not to gut the NPCA with the proposed changes to the Conservation Act.
OPEN URGENT LETTER
Hon. Doug Ford, MPP
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Hon. Jeff Yurek, MPP
Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
777 Bay Street, 5th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 2J3
Dear Premier Ford and Minister Yurek:
I am sending this letter to express my outrage as well as the deep disappointment of Niagara citizens with the recent actions of your government with respect to local conservation authorities. At a time when we are all dealing with a worsening deadly coronavirus pandemic, you have chosen to accelerate an ongoing harmful agenda to strip the NPCA and conservation authorities across Ontario of its citizen appointees, in direct opposition to the recommendations of the 2018 Ontario Auditor General’s Report. That report concluded that part of the problem with the NPCA was that it’s board was only made up of politicians.
As people stay home and frontline workers put their lives on the line during the COVID-19 crisis, your government imposes new regulations buried in the Ontario 2020 Budget gutting our Conservation Authorities by rolling back environmental oversight at the local level. This, despite the findings of the Auditor General that the loss of public trust in the previous administration of the NPCA over sketchy hiring practises, poor procurement policies, harassment of staff and lawsuits against whistleblowers such as Ed Smith stemmed directly from a board of directors dominated by Niagara regional councillors serving on the previous council.
Under these new changes buried in Bill 229, developers will be allowed to bypass restrictions put into place by conservation authorities including the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, an organization that citizens spent many years cleaning up with a new board and most notably committed citizens concerned with our environment and the protection of wetlands. These citizen board members help to ensure that elected officials will not put their own municipal goals and needs or those of developers ahead of those of the conservation authority.
Why is your government undoing the work of Ontario’s Auditor General, Niagara citizens as well as the work already done by the NPCA itself to reform and repair this crucial agency?
In the two years since you have taken office, Ontario has cancelled 227 clean energy projects, wound down conservation programs, weakened endangered species protections and taken away powers from the province’s environmental commissioner, who is meant to hold the government accountable. This is yet another step in the wrong direction.
The people of Niagara ask that you stop using this devastating pandemic as cover to suspend laws and impede conservation authorities that exist to protect our environment. This short-sighted decision is irresponsible and disrespects the people of Niagara. We demand that you rescind these changes immediately and allow our Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to do the job it was created to do without political interference.
Jeff Burch, MPP
Copy: Hon. John Yakabuski, MPP, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Hon. Steve Clark, MPP, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Jim Bradley, Niagara Regional Chair and Members of Regional Council
Chandra Sharma, CEO, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority