In a possible recognition of the almost universal unpopularity of its recent moves to strip local Conservation Authorities of their traditional powers, the government today has appointed a working group to “help implement changes.”
They have appointed Hassaan Basit, President and CEO of Conservation Halton as chair of the group. Basit’s conservation authority was one of the first to condemn the changes when they announced last month.
“As we move forward together, we want to build stronger relationships with conservation authorities so we can work together to ensure consistent best practices, good governance and appropriate accountability to best serve the people of Ontario,” said Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. “I’d like to thank Hassaan Basit for the discussions over the last few weeks which helped inform some recent amendments to the legislative changes to ensure conservation authorities have the tools they need to protect their communities. I look forward to continuing our positive and constructive dialogue towards our shared goals.”
On November 12, Basit reacted to the proposed legislative changes in no uncertain terms, “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.”
The province introduced legislative changes through Bill 229, Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act, 2020, which received Royal Assent on December 8, 2020. Amendments were made to the Bill based on valuable feedback from stakeholder groups, including conservation authorities.
The new working group will include representatives from conservation authorities and other experts. Representatives of the working group will be announced in the coming weeks.
Once they begin work in January, the working group will provide input to help the province develop regulations that will focus on:
“Partnerships and collaboration are critical to ensure that conservation authorities can continue making watershed-based resource management decisions in the interest of the environment, health, and safety,” said Basit. “Alongside conservation authorities across Ontario, Conservation Halton is looking forward to working with the province, offering scientific expertise and leadership, in the development of regulations pertaining to recent amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act contained in Bill 229.”