Changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act Present Potential Risks to People, Property and the Environment

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has reviewed the proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act released in the provincial budget on November 5.

While we wait for updated regulations under the Conservation Authorities Act to fully understand how the changes are to be implemented, we are encouraged that the act continues to provide for conservation, restoration, source water protection and natural resource management at the watershed level. We also support enhanced transparency and accountability, which represent best practices and the high level of service we provide our partners, stakeholders and watershed residents.

However, the proposed changes would reduce the effectiveness of conservation authorities to protect the natural environment as well as public health and safety. These changes serve to erode our ability to manage lands containing natural hazards and wetlands, build flood resilience in the face of climate change and preserve critical natural features. CVC’s key concerns are:

  1. Proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act would authorize the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to issue an order to take over and decide a development permit application in place of a conservation authority. Additionally, a permit applicant can request that the Minister review a conservation authority’s decision about a permit application (approved with conditions or denied), at which point the Minister can make any decision, including issuing a permit.
     
    CVC and all Ontario conservation authorities are science-based, non-partisan public sector organizations that review permit applications consistently through the requirements set forth under section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act. Granting permitting authority to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry 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.
     
    Conservation authorities regulate lands containing natural hazards and wetlands at the watershed level because natural systems cross municipal and property boundaries. Questionable development decisions can have significant and lasting impacts to a property, adjacent properties and downstream communities.
  1. 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 will provide the ability to stop significant threats to life, property and environmentally sensitive areas before having to resort to costly fines and prosecution.
  1. The CVC board acts on behalf of the watershed and its residents to ensure good corporate operations and management. Proposed changes would direct board members to act only on behalf of the municipality they represent rather than on behalf of the watershed and its residents. This is contrary to proper board governance and contradicts recent recommendations by Ontario’s Auditor General.
  1. Consequential changes to the Planning Act would bar conservation authorities from appealing a municipal planning decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), unless requested through an agreement with the municipality or the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. This tool is a necessary but seldom used tool in our toolbox.
     
    This change would also remove our right to appeal planning decisions as a landowner. This is of significant concern as CVC owns and manages over 7,000 acres of land for habitat protection, community recreation and flood hazard management.

Since 1956, Ontario’s conservation authorities have defined and defended the floodplains to ensure public safety and property protection, often on behalf of our municipal partners, using a variety of tools present in the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act. Removing some of these tools from our toolbox may allow individuals to circumvent checks and balances that exist to ensure the safe development of communities and the protection of sensitive environmental features.

We encourage our municipal partners, watershed residents and our network of supporters to reach out to the Premier, the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as local MPPs over the next week to ask that they address the concerns outlined above before the bill is enacted.

About Credit Valley Conservation:

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) is a local conservation authority established by the Ontario government in 1954 to protect, restore and enhance the natural environment of the Credit River Watershed. Our watershed is defined by the area of land where all rainfall, snowmelt and runoff drains into lands and waters flowing into the Credit River. CVC creates connections between people and nature, knowledge and action. We inspire a deep appreciation for the role of nature in keeping people connected, healthy and happy. CVC is a member of Conservation Ontario.

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