Conservation authorities push back against provincial legislation

While acknowledging they need to do better, Ontario’s push to limit “red tape” is going too far, according to the province’s 36 conservation authorities.

“We acknowledge that some processes have become a little bit slow over time, and it’s important to reduce time to make decisions. So we’re making changes to policy and process to work with developers, so they can have a clearer understanding of our timelines,” says Dan Gieruszak, board chair for the Saugeen Conservation Authority.

Conservation Ontario, which represents all 36 conservation authorities in the province, says new legislation proposed by the provincial government to reduce red tape and expedite development would greatly weaken their ability to protect the environment.

“For instance, there’s the ability for the minister to say to the conservation authority, don’t issue that permit, we’ll issue that permit. Where’s that minister going to be getting his or her information from to make that informed decision?” says Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario.

Conservation authorities believe the proposed changes to their role and responsibilities could lead to more flooding, shoreline erosion and even drought.

“All of the things conservation authorities have been doing over the past 50 years have been protecting us against these extreme local weather events. These proposed changes in legislation weaken our ability to address these extreme local weather events,” says Gieruszak, who is also the Municipality of Brockton’s deputy mayor.

“We’ve seen significant erosion issues on our Great Lakes. We’ve seen significant flooding over the past couple of years. This is the information and data that conservation authorities in their watershed (use) to make informed decision. Our role isn’t to say no to development, our role is to say we need to make development happens in the right place to keep people and their property safe,” says Gavine.

Several municipalities across Ontario are supporting Conservation Ontario’s request to scrap the province’s Schedule 6 legislation, and renew talks for a mutually beneficial compromise.

Ontario’s Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks had this to say on the proposed changes:

“Our proposed changes would make sure conservation authorities are focused on delivering the programs they were designed to deliver, like flood mitigation, protecting sources of drinking water, and managing conservation-authority owned lands. Municipalities would also have more say over the services they pay for, and conservation authorities would be required to be more transparent in the decisions they make," said Jeff Yurek.

"To be clear, our government is committed to protecting and preserving Ontario’s natural spaces and our evidence and science-based decision making would not change. Any suggestion otherwise is completely false.”

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