Conservation Halton has issued a news release and background information protesting plans by the Ontario government to implement changes that would severely cut back on powers and mandates the Authorities currently possess. In particular, the proposed changes which were contained in an omnibus bill presented by the government this month would severely limit the involvement of Conservation authorities for various development proposals that would take place in the watersheds overseen by the Authorities. Under the new rules projects that were being held up by the Conservation Authorities’ approval process could be approved via a ministerial order. Another major change would be to limit membership on Conservation Authority boards to sitting members of the municipal council, eliminating the citizen members altogether. Hamilton Conservation Authority for instance, has six citizen members and only five councillors. Further, instead pf pledging to act in the best interests of the Conservation Authority members now would be required to “act honestly and in good faith” and that, particularly, members appointed by participating municipalities, “generally act on behalf of their respective municipalities” Wrote Conservation Halton, “This change is contrary to the fiduciary responsibilities of a corporate body and undermines the stated purpose of conservation authorities to address conservation matters which transcend municipal boundaries.”
This process got started in April of 2019 when the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) posted proposals to amend the Conservation Authorities Act with the intent to help conservation authorities focus and deliver on their core mandate and to improve governance. Conservation Halton says it “prepared submissions on the changes to the Act but it was passed in June 2019 under Bill 108 with little consultation or consideration for suggested modifications.”
Further, the government apparently engaged in a secret stakeholder consultation that did not involve the Conservation Authorities. CH says the talks “with stakeholders were held in the winter of 2020. The results of those consultations have not been made public. The details of many of the changes in Bill 108 were left to forthcoming regulations. Despite efforts by Conservation Ontario and individual CAs, MECP has not been willing to engage on the content of regulations.” The Bay Observer has contacted the ministry asking the following:
1. What was the problem or problems(s) that this process was intended to correct.
2. Reference is made to extensive stakeholder consultation which apparently took place over the last winter. Can we see the minutes of those consultations, who participated and any staff report that might have arisen from the consultation process.
CH writes, “Changes to section 2(1) of the Planning Act specifically remove conservation authorities as public bodies under the Act. By doing so, our ability to appeal municipal planning decisions or to be a party to a planning appeal is lost and we will no longer be able to participate in negotiated settlements. This could result in planning decisions that fail to consider hazard risks and for which CA permits cannot be approved. Planning approvals should only be issued for development that can be permitted under CA regulations.”
Conservation Halton is asking for a chance to discuss the implications of the proposed changes with the Ministry and that any changes be held in abeyance until those discussions can be held. The letter was signed by Gerry Smallegange, the Chair of Conservation Halton and the mayors of the four Halton municipalities.