Conservation Authorities across Ontario are reeling with news that the Ford Government plans to essentially neuter them in terms of being able to block development in their watersheds. The government also wants to remove citizens from conservation boards. The question is why? The Bay Observer has been in touch with the Ministry of Environment in an effort to find out why these drastic changes are needed. What is the problem that these measures are intended to solve? Even the way the changes were rolled out is suspicious. The changes were included in an omnibus bill that accompanied the budget. Isn’t the budget important enough to be in a bill by itself? This is the same omnibus bill, by the way, that contains a measure paving the way for Fire-and-brimstone preacher cum college operator Charles McVety to have his institution declared a degree-granting university. McVety is well known for his anti gay, anti Darwin and anti Islam views.
Back to the Conservation authorities, it appears there was a public consultation process earlier this year but Conservation officials we spoke to said there was no hint in those discussions that these kinds of changes were in the works. A government spokesperson told the Bay Observer ”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.” So it’s clear the changes are to facilitate planning (read development).
The Hamilton Conservation Authority says it might get involved in one development application per year, and in some years, no cases at all. So it’s hard to see there would be many complaints about HCA. The answer may lie further east, when you look at the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. TRCA covers a vast area taking in parts of neighbouring York, Peel and Durham Regions in addition to Metro Toronto. Its jurisdiction stretches from Ajax to Mississauga, effectively covering the part of the province where growth and development pressures are the greatest. The wording of the government bill is almost surgical in weakening CA’s abilities to involve themselves in planning regulations while at the same time removing the kind of engaged (and possibly noisy) citizens who would want to serve on Conservation Authority Boards. Conservation Authorities and their supporters, whose numbers are substantial, are pushing back. This could end up being a hotter potato for the government than it expected because the conservation movement has powerful supporters from all parts of the political spectrum, including former Tory Cabinet Minister David Crombie who has already fired a letter off to the Ford Government.