Credit Valley Conservation’s role in protecting and managing the local environment is being threatened by proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act.
When did the province make changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act?
The previous Liberal government completed a thorough review of the Conservation Authorities Act in order to modernize it beginning in 2015 and ending with the passing of Bill 139 in December of 2017. The current Conservative government reopened the Act and made changes under Bill 108.
The Province’s latest budget bill (Bill 229) was issued November 5, 2020. Within it were further changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act.
Why should I be concerned?
The new changes will limit conservation authorities’ role in protecting Ontario’s environment and ensuring people and property are safe from natural hazards. Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities are important agencies that help protect Ontario’s environment. Our science-based watershed information helps steer development to appropriate places where it will not harm the environment or create risks to people and property.
Since 1956, conservation authorities have defined and defended the floodplains to ensure public safety and property protection using a variety of tools in the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act. Removing some of these tools from our toolbox will allow individuals to bypass the checks and balances that ensure the safe development of communities and the protection of sensitive environmental features. Development in flood prone areas will place added pressure on municipal first responders. Damaged infrastructure will result in costly repairs by municipalities – ultimately paid for by taxpayers.
The Province has introduced a number of changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act that significantly either limit or completely change the role of conservation authorities to protect Ontario’s environment and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards.
- Changes authorize the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to take over and decide a development permit application in place of a conservation authority. This removes and/or significantly hinders the conservation authorities’ role in regulating development.
Why does this matter?
Conservation authorities are science-based, non-partisan agencies. Granting permitting authority to the Minister would take science out of the equation, effectively politicizing the permitting process and allowing development that may be considered unsafe or damaging to the natural environment. The Ministry does not have access to the local data and tools we have.
- Changes will change conservation authorities’ role and prohibit conservation authorities from independently appealing decisions made around permits and municipal planning applications.
Why does this matter?
An appeal is sometimes the last resort to being able to ensure that a development will be safe. It is not used often but when it is, it is a necessary avenue. Conservation authority participation in the appeals processes ensures that local data, tools and policies are being applied to planning and land use decisions and that people and their property are protected from natural hazards such as flooding. Without our ability to look at development applications with a watershed focus, we run the risk of the plan review process being piecemealed and ultimately the potential to exacerbate risks associated with natural hazards and for cumulative negative environmental impacts.
- Changes redirect the fiduciary role (Duty of Members) for municipally appointed conservation authority board members. They are being told to make decisions in the best interest of the municipalities and not the conservation authority.
Why does this matter?
This contradicts recent recommendations by Ontario’s Auditor General. Instructing members to act only on behalf of their municipality is counter to the intent of the Conservation Authorities Act, which was to transcend political boundaries for municipalities sharing a watershed to collectively manage and protect its resources. The province is looking to ensure good board governance and this does not make it better.
- Changes remove the provision for conservation authorities to issue stop work orders.
Why does this matter?
Stop work order is a new tool in our enforcement toolbox that we had long requested from the province. This tool would provide the ability to stop significant threats to life, property and environmentally sensitive areas before having to resort to costly fines and prosecution.
Do the changes reduce the permit and planning application timelines?
Provincial changes will actually create more costs, delays and red tape around permit and planning applications and appeals event though one of the reasons the province decided to amend the Conservation Authorities Act is to streamline the planning and permitting process. The changes bring more appeal options. If applicants are not satisfied with decisions made by the Hearing Boards (Conservation Authority Board of Directors or Executive), then applicants can now appeal directly to the Minister who can make his or her own decision without a hearing and even issue a permit. Alternatively, or in addition, the applicant can appeal a decision of the conservation authority to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
Why are science-based permit and planning applications important?
Conservation authorities bring watershed science and information to the various tables where development and growth are being reviewed and discussed. The conservation authority watershed model has served Ontario well and is relied upon by many levels of government, businesses and residents to protect the environment from upstream to downstream. We look at development applications on a watershed basis to ensure the plan review process is holistic to minimizes risks associated with natural hazards and reduce cumulative negative environmental impacts.
What’s wrong with the Minister issuing a permit instead of a conservation authority?
Through the Act, the Minister is empowered to issue a permit before or after a conservation authority has rendered its decision. The Minister does not have access to the local data, modelling tools, guidelines or policies of the conservation authorities. Further, the conservation authorities work with the municipalities to ensure that the development and/or conditions are consistent with what the municipality wants from the applicant. This short-circuiting may result in poor planning. Finally, conservation authorities inspect for permit compliance and through our tools enforce conditions. Who will ensure this happens if the permit is not issued by the conservation authority. Worse, what if a permit is issued in a place and/or for development that the conservation authority would not approve for public safety reasons? Who accepts the liability then?
How are conservation authorities held accountable?
Conservation authorities are committed to being transparent and accountable to the communities they serve. All conservation authorities recently updated their administrative by-laws to further their transparency and accountability. Key documents are publicly available including meeting agendas, meeting minutes and annual audits. We provide information to each municipality on our budget and annually report on our accomplishments with public funds. Where municipalities support additional levy, we negotiate the programs and services offered as well as the budget allocated.
What can I do?
It’s time, now more than ever, to stand up for your local conservation authority.
Respectfully tell your MPP that conservation matters and ask that they remove schedule 6 from Bill 229, so that these significant changes can be properly debated and informed through consultation.
Use this easy-to-use form to find your MPP and send your email in a single step. And follow-up with a call.