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. 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.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel, one of the largest storms to hit our province, left a path of destruction as it slowly moved northward into the Greater Toronto Area. The storm stayed in the area for days, causing record flooding, damage to homes and infrastructure in the floodplain and the unfortunate loss of 81 lives. After the disaster, the province placed conservation authorities in charge of making sure development near waterways was done safely.
Although we haven’t seen flooding of that magnitude in many years, flooding across our province, like that seen in the Ottawa region in 2019, reminds us of the risks to life and property and the value of conservation authorities in keeping us safe. Our ability to manage development on lands with natural hazards and wetlands is key to keeping communities safe.
Within the Province’s latest budget bill (bill 229), issued November 5, were a number of changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act that will limit conservation authorities’ role in protecting Ontario’s environment and ensuring people and property are safe from natural hazards.
- Changes would authorize the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to take over and decide a development permit application in place of a conservation authority. 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 for development that may be considered unsafe or damaging to the natural environment.
- One of the reasons the province decided to amend the Conservation Authorities Act is to streamline the planning and permitting process. But the proposed changes will actually create more costs, delays and red tape as multiple avenues of appeal are made available, which will short-circuit the development review process.
- Proposed changes would prohibit conservation authorities from independently appealing decisions made around permits and municipal planning applications. This can put more people and infrastructure at risk and add additional stressors to our local environment.
- The Credit Valley Conservation board acts on behalf of the watershed and its residents. Proposed changes would direct board members to act only on behalf of the municipality they represent, contradicting recent recommendations by Ontario’s Auditor General. Moreover, for 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.
- Proposed changes would remove the un-proclaimed provision for conservation authorities to issue stop work orders, 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.
Why does it matter?
Since 1956, Ontario’s 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 may 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.
What can you 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 the budget bill, so that these significant changes can be properly debated and informed through consultation.
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