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Pushback on changes to Conservation Authority Act

Pushback on changes to Conservation Authority Act

Conservation Halton has weighed in on the proposed changes to the Conservation Authority Act and is not happy. The Act would allow municipal councils to override Conservation Authorities on development disputes, would prevent Conservation Authorities from appealing at LPAT hearings and would remove citizen representation from CA boards.

In a release Conservation Halton writes: CH remains fully supportive of the Province’s stated intent to modernize the watershed-based scope, good governance, service delivery and sustainability of all Conservation Authorities (CAs).

CH is, however, concerned that some of the proposed amendments will significantly diminish the ability of CAs to ensure that both people and property are safe from natural hazards, while also protecting Ontario’s environment.

The proposed amendments would grant new powers to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry that would allow the Minister to make decisions regarding permit applications and appeals in place of the CA, without the non-partisan technical input and expertise of CAs. Bill 229 also proposes amendments to the Planning Act, which if passed, would prohibit CAs from appealing a municipal planning decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) or becoming a party to an appeal before LPAT.

While there are currently checks and balances in place to ensure the safe development of communities, CH is concerned that new amendments will allow circumvention that leaves the possibility for development decisions that are both unsafe and negatively impact the environment.

“There are a number of disappointing proposed changes that have the potential to undermine conservation authorities and our ability to make science-based watershed management decisions in the interest of public health and safety. Living through the pandemic, we have seen first-hand just how important our environment and wetlands are to our residents. We do not want to see any decisions made that increase the risks from natural hazards, especially as we continue to work to mitigate climate change and conserve our watershed to allow for responsible growth today, without sacrificing the right of future generations to do the same.” said Hassaan Basit, CEO of Conservation Halton

CH views the governance changes calling for municipal councillors to make up the sole membership of the Board, while also being instructed to represent the interests of their respective municipalities, and not those of the CA or watershed residents, extremely problematic. This will create an environment in which fiduciary duties and responsibilities to the conservation authority are not upheld.

Further, CH is disappointed in the proposed removal of the un-proclaimed stop work orders and limitations on power to entry provisions that this government had previously agreed to grant CAs. The removal of this tool takes away the ability to enforce regulations that keep life and property safe. It also diminishes the ability to address environmental violations early and work with stakeholders to remedy problems, leaving no tools but to pursue costly and time-consuming charges through the courts when violations occur.

These concerns were echoed by Lloyd Ferguson, the Chair of the Hamilton Conservation Authority on the Bill Kelly Show Thursday. Ferguson said the Hamilton Conservation Authority gets tremendous benefit from having citizen members on its board, who bring skill sets and expertise that would otherwise not be available. He was also concerned about provisions of the legislation that would strip away the powers of CA’s when it comes to development applications. Ferguson was also worried that CA’s would lose their mandate to operate revenue-producing attractions like trails and Wild Waterworks which provide the bulk of CA funding.

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward concurred with the concerns of Halton Conservation, writing, “The proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act put the environment and people at risk of flooding and natural hazards, creates more red tape and hinders the role of CAs in regulating development. I encourage residents to contact their local MPPs now and let them know how you feel about these proposed changes.”

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