Mass exodus over provincial changes to the Conservation Authorities Act

cjos flooding

The Greenbelt Council is a government-appointed expert panel that advises the province on issues related to the Greenbelt, a stretch of protected land surrounding the Greater Toronto Area that Ford has promised not to develop. 

Chair David Crombie, a respected former Progressive Conservative MP and Toronto mayor, resigned Saturday night, with six more members following suit Sunday morning.

In their resignation letters, all seven cited the government's proposed changes to conservation authorities, agencies that oversee key watershed systems, some of which are in Greenbelt lands.

Critics say if the bill passes, it would undermine the ability of conservation authorities to ensure development in floodplains happens safely.

It could also take away the authorities’ ability to intervene in controversial cases. 

 

Message from Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority ~ 

The Province has announced changes to the Conservation Authorities Act in Schedule 6 of Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020 that will significantly impact the ability of conservation authorities (CAs) to protect people, property, and the environment in the future.  

“This is a fundamental time in the history of our Province”, said Dan Gieruszak, Chair of the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA), “the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act will impact the future of environmental protection in the Province of Ontario and is likely to have unintended consequences. Our local environments protect us from extreme local weather events caused by global climate change. We have significant examples across the Province of extreme weather in recent years and it appears the Province has not responded to feedback provided through consultations. At a time when funding should be increased to provide more robust science-based decision making, it appears the Province is headed in the other direction. Therefore, SVCA is requesting the repeal of Schedule 6 from Bill 229”.

“Since 1956, Ontario’s conservation authorities have defined and defended floodplains to ensure both public safety and property protection,” said Jennifer Stephens, General Manager of the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority.  “Seventy years of collaborative land use planning with the intent to keep our communities safe is on the cusp of being compromised by the proposed changes.”

Stephens explained that conservation authorities do their work on a watershed basis and that makes us a unique entity in Ontario.  CAs use science-based watershed information to safeguard Ontario communities from upstream to downstream. 

The Province has proposed changes that will negatively impact the current permit review process, which would in fact run contrary to the government’s desire to help modernize conservation authorities and ensure they operate with greater focus and efficiency. In good faith, the SVCA and Conservation Authorities across Ontario have taken steps to achieve greater focus and efficiency, to reduce costs to member municipalities, so it is disheartening to see the changes from the Province do not support these bold initiatives.

“If the Province intends to take on the decision-making role through the revised appeal process, we have not seen evidence that they are adding science and engineering expertise to ensure people and property are as safe or safer with these changes. We have always supported the reduction of red tape – but not at the expense of people and property,” said Gieruszak.

Fundamentally, by shifting the conservation authority role in the plan review process as proposed will result in a fragmented approach to environment protection, not only within watersheds, but across the Province.

It is important to have your voice heard.  Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority encourages residents and watershed partners to reach out to the Premier, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, as well as local MPPs to request them to repeal Schedule 6 of the Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID 19 Act (Budget Measures Act), 2020. 

To learn more about the proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, the public is encouraged to visit Conservation Ontario’s website 

 

Message from the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority ~ 

The Province has introduced changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, under the 2020 Provincial Budget Bill, Bill 229, that will limit the conservation authorities’ ability to protect people, property, and the environment. Most of these changes have come with no warning or consultations and have raised concerns with Grey Sauble Conservation Authority (GSCA), who believes these actions by the Province lack transparency and will put communities across Ontario at risk. It is important for all Ontarians to understand how they may be impacted by these proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and know who they should contact to express their concern.

GSCA has identified several major issues related to these proposed changes that the public and municipalities in Ontario should be concerned about and prepared to act on. Changes imposed by this Bill would allow the Province to determine which municipally or self-funded programs conservation authorities can undertake. This undermines the ability of local Boards and Councils to define the programs that are beneficial to their local watershed communities. This Provincial overreach may have significant impacts on public safety, the local environment and resilience to climate change.

Changes to the development permit process include permit appeals to be submitted directly to the Minister of Natural Resources & Forestry (Minister) and for power to be given to the Minister to issue their own permits. This has the potential for significant negative impacts on Ontarians as it lacks transparency and could add political motivation to permit decisions while removing the use of background information, local watershed knowledge, and scientific expertise on which conservation authority staff currently make these decisions.

Further, this change would allow bypassing of the hearing process and could result in development in unsafe locations such as flood plains and the destruction of environmental features. The Province has also introduced new fee appeal methods that may cause a significant administrative burden on staff and hearing boards, ultimately leading to delays in development reviews. Ontario’s conservation authorities are tasked with keeping local communities safe from the impacts of natural hazards. Amendments to the Planning Act that remove the ability of conservation authorities to appeal planning decisions will dramatically reduce the ability of conservation authorities to provide this service.

Tim Lanthier, Chief Administrative Officer for Grey Sauble Conservation Authority states, “The changes being proposed by the Province will effectively undo decades of thoughtful planning to keep our communities safe.” Further, Ontario’s ability to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change will be hampered by these changes that undermine the work of conservation authorities to keep development out of high flood risk areas and for protecting natural infrastructure such as wetlands. These actions directly contradict the Made in Ontario Environment Plan that promotes building resilience for the costs and impacts of Climate Change.

The importance of safe and healthy communities, as well as access to nature for personal well-being has become extremely evident this year, which highlights the value that conservation authorities provide across Ontario. "If you value the work of conservation authorities to protect the environment and to protect our communities from the impacts of natural hazards, it is vital that you speak up now. Call your MPP, email your councilors, or go to GSCA's website to advocate for the removal of Schedule 6 from Bill 229” – Lanthier. For more information on these changes and to find out how to take action, visit: www.greysauble.on.ca

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