A spokesperson for Environment Minister Jeff Yurek has confirmed to the Bay Observer That proposed changes to the act governing conservation authorities were implemented to make them accountable to municipalities in which they operate. Up until now Conservation Authorities enjoyed a level of independence from municipalities, especially in the area of funding. Under the Act municipalities are obliged to pay the annual levy as set by CA’s. That does not appear to have changed, but now membership on Conservation authorities will consist entirely of municipal council members. Citizen members have been abolished.
Andrew Buttigieg, Jeff Yurek’s Press Secretary told the Bay Observer in a statement, “After over a year and a half of discussions with conservation authorities, municipalities and other hands-on land stewards, we are proposing changes that will improve the governance, oversight and accountability of conservation authorities, while respecting taxpayer dollars by giving municipalities more say over the conservation authority services they pay for.” He did not answer our questions about what were the circumstances that led to the overhaul, nor did he provide details on exactly who was consulted about the changes.
Mr. Buttigieg continued, “We are proposing that all municipally-appointed members of conservation authorities be elected officials to ensure they better represent the interests of their municipalities. We are also proposing to enable the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to appoint a member from the agricultural sector to each conservation authority. These proposed changes would ensure fuller representation of municipalities and enable the perspectives on the agricultural sectors into conservation authority governance and decision making.”
One of the big changes will be rules that can prevent the Conservation Authorities’ ability to delay or block development proposals on the lands they administer. According to Buttigieg, “the proposed changes would provide a new mechanism for the province to become involved in the issuance of permits, where there are matters of provincial interest. The scope of this mechanism will be further determined through the development and consultation of regulations. With our proposed changes, conservation authorities could still provide advice/support to municipalities and the Province for appeals of Planning Act decisions – increasing accountability, consistency and transparency by streamlining the land use planning process through the one-window approach.
The changes also appear to be intended to strengthen the government’s ability to step in and take over a CA does not comply with provincial law. The statement reads, “ the Minister may issue a binding directive to the conservation authority. The Minister may also, with the approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council (LGIC), appoint a temporary administrator to assume control of all of the conservation authority’s operations.” The Bay Observer is continuing its efforts to learn what circumstances triggered the sweeping changes.