Controversial bill to change conservation authorities in pro-development move by province
Conservation Ontario has asked its members, environmental groups, and citizens to petition for changes to the Conservative government’s new developer-friendly bill — but a motion from Mayor Andy Letham led to a 6-3 vote not to pursue the matter.
Under the new bill, known as Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act, members will be required to act in the best interests of their municipalities, not the best interests of the watershed. Further, every member of the authority board would need to be an elected municipal councillor, eliminating appointed citizen representatives.
While most Ontario conservation authorities wrote to Premier Doug Ford or made a presentation before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, Kawartha Conservation, in a 6-3 vote, elected not to bother. It was Letham, who serves as vice-chair of the Kawartha Conservation Board, who made the motion to take no action.
He said there were necessary changes in the new proposed legislation and that he couldn’t dismiss the entirety of Schedule 6 (which contains the controversial changes) based on some aspects of it. He went on to state “(This bill)…will eliminate confusion over the core mandate of Conservation Authorities. It is a way to get back to basics and promote responsible development.”
Additionally with the new legislation, a section of the Conservation Authorities Act would be repealed that gives conservation authority officers the power to issue stop orders to those who may be contravening the act.
“This is an important enforcement tool (and) without this tool, Conservation Authorities must obtain an injunction to stop unauthorized activities which represents a significant cost to the taxpayers,” said Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario.
She adds that, “there are a number of changes that could actually create more red tape and delay permit application approvals and I’m not sure that’s what the Province intended to do.”
On the other side of the issue, acting mayor of Brock, Ted Smith who is chair of the Kawartha Conservation Board felt Schedule 6 included “too many changes that will cause more problems than they will solve in the long run.”
Of note among those changes are the duties of board members who represent municipalities in a given conservation authority’s jurisdiction. Conservation Authorities are based on watersheds, following Mother Nature’s borders instead of political boundaries to collectively manage and protect its natural resources.
Another amendment authorizes the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to assume jurisdiction for certain permit applications, meaning if a conservation authority refuses a permit or applies conditions, applicants can appeal directly to the minister or take the matter to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
Previously, the only mechanism a landowner had to appeal a permit was to take the matter directly to the executive board of the local Conservation Authority. A related revision to the Planning Act prohibits Conservation Authorities from appealing a municipal planning decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) or becoming a party to an appeal.
However, ministerial zoning orders, or MZOs, already allow the government to permit development while bypassing municipal planning process, public consultation and environmental assessments. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has used them eight times in just over a year. The Liberals issued that many during their last 10 years in power.
For his part, Mark Majchrowski —CAO of Kawartha Conservation — is taking a wait and see approach, noting the bill was still being debated, and time remains for amendments to be made.