WATERLOO — The province announced intended reforms to the Conservation Authority Act earlier this month.
If passed, the amendments will allow the provincial government to have control over land development permitting decisions.
The amendments were announced as part of the 2020 provincial budget, and so do not legally require public input according to the Environmental Registry listing.
The amendments still need to pass through legislative procedure before becoming law.
“These changes would 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,” according to the ministry’s posting on the Registry.
Throughout 2019 the province consulted with stakeholders from various sectors including Conservation Authorities, municipalities, agriculture, environmental advocacy groups, and development on the role of the Conservation Authorities.
In its 2019 Made-In-Ontario Environment plan, the province promised to ensure Conservation Authorities focus on their core mandate of managing natural hazards, maintaining and managing conservation lands and drinking water source protection.
Notable proposed amendments in the 2020 budget omnibus bill include giving power to the province to give permits, ban permits, or take over the permitting process.
“For certain the proposed changes are going to limit our ability to do what we currently do,” says Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario. “If the decision is made that things will constantly be going to the minister, for instance applications come in and someone is not pleased with their application, and they can just say ‘OK well we’re not going to deal with you Conservation Authority, we’re just going to go up to the minister,’ it really does limit our ability to do our job effectively.
“It puts Ontario’s environment at risk by piecemealing decisions as opposed to using that watershed lens.”
Additionally, the province’s proposed amendments will limit board seats for Conservation Authorities to municipal representatives, and mandating board members act in the best interest of their municipalities rather than for the Conservation Authority’s.
Conservation Authorities will also no longer be able to appeal decisions to the Land Planning Appeal Tribunal.
“The scope and powers of conservation authorities will be limited to the point that no meaningful integrated watershed management will be possible,” according to the Canadian Environmental Legal Association’s preliminary analysis of the proposed amendments.
- Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative, Waterloo Region Record