Provincial Changes to Conservation Authorities Act Will Significantly Compromise Role of Protecting Ontario’s Environment
NPCA News Release: Provincial Changes to Conservation Authorities Act will impact NPCA Watershed Management approach and progress made on Auditor General recommendations
Bill 229 contains new rules for Board appointments, changes to conservation authorities’ planning role and creation of new Ministerial powers
On Nov. 5, the Province of Ontario tabled omnibus budget measures Bill 229, which proposes fundamental changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and to the conservation authorities’ role in land use planning. These changes will significantly compromise and in some cases, completely change the role of conservation authorities to protect Ontario’s environment and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards.
“The recent COVID-19 pandemic brought home the critical need for investment in green infrastructure for the health and well being of our communities. We anticipated provincial support and amendments that would’ve enabled us to carry on with this important work,” says Chandra Sharma, CAO/Secretary-Treasurer at Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA). “The NPCA was challenged to deploy our limited resources on the frontlines to ensure people can safely enjoy our natural resources. We believe we are contributing significantly to the local economy by optimising our natural assets for residents in these difficult times. We are disappointed that the proposed changes are contrary to many of the enabling recommendations of the Auditor General of Ontario, which the NPCA has worked so hard to deliver on over the past few years.”
Highlights of Proposed Key Changes:
- Remove and/or significantly hinder the conservation authorities’ role in regulating development, permit and planning application appeal process and engaging in appeal of municipal planning applications.
- Allow the Minister to review and override permit decisions made by conservation authorities and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from the conservation authorities.
- Redirect the fiduciary role (Duty of Members) for municipally appointed conservation authority Board members.
The new rules for Board appointments are in contradiction to the Auditor General of Ontario recommendations 4 and 5 in the September 2018, Special Audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. “These changes will impact how board members make decisions, based on the interest of the municipalities and not the conservation authority and watersheds they serve,” adds Brenda Johnson, NPCA Board Chair. “It will force us to take a step back when we’ve already made incredible progress.”
Over the past two years, NPCA has invested significant time and resources to successfully deliver on the Auditor General of Ontario’s Special Audit, specifically related to strengthening NPCA’s Planning and Enforcement functions as well as Governance related matters.
The NPCA is putting forth the following recommendations for consideration of the Province:
- That the proposed Schedule 6 not be enacted in its present form and that Ministry officials continue to work with conservation authorities in good faith on regulations as proposed under previous Bill 108.
- That the Natural Resource Mandate of Conservation Authorities as stated in Section 20 be respected, to allow for important work on watershed-scale monitoring, data collection management and modelling; watershed-scale studies, plans, assessments and strategies; and watershed-wide actions including stewardship, communication, outreach and education activities that protect our environment on a watershed basis.
- That an amendment be made to not limit conservation authorities’ appeals as a public body to conformity with section 3.1 (natural hazards) of the Provincial Policy Statement.
- That the proposed changes to the Section 28 regulation be amended or repealed to allow conservation authorities a more progressive enforcement of watershed resources for the health and safety of communities as recommended by the Auditor General of Ontario.
- That prescribing standards and requirements for Non-Mandatory (i.e. Local) programs and services be left with conservation authorities and their local municipal partners.
- That Governance Changes related to the ‘Duty of Members’ from furthering the objects of the authority to representing the interest of their municipality be repealed.
- That Board appointments remain the decision of the municipality in consultation with conservation authorities.
The NPCA remains hopeful that through a collaborative approach, conservation authorities will be able to work with the Ministry to address concerns regarding potential limitations in the protection, restoration, and enhancement of local watersheds. This legislation has been largely untouched for almost 100 years and any amendments made should continue to ensure that conservation authorities like the NPCA can deliver on its hazard management role, not only to protect the health and safety of communities, but to provide much needed greenspace to residents.