Province aims to restrict their role with Bill 229
It’s too early to say what impact changes to the Conservation Authorities Act (CAA) will have on the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority, says the agency’s chairman.
North Bay Coun. Dave Mendicino says his board will examine the changes next week.
However, officials with other conservation authorities throughout the province are raising red flags about changes contained in provincial budget.
As part of the budget, the changes do not require public input, although they do need to pass on the floor of Queen’s Park before becoming law.
The province says the changes are intended to “improve the governance, oversight and accountability of conservation authorities, while respecting taxpayer dollars by giving municipalities more say over the conservation authority services they pay for.”
However, Tim Lanthier, CAO of Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, warns the changes ”will be to the detriment of all Ontarians.
“Based on my initial review, I am quite concerned that these changes will dramatically impact conservation authorities and the communities that we serve.”
The province currently has 36 conservation authorities (CAs) that focus on managing flood control, water quality issues, permits for construction and maintenance of conservation lands.
“A large role of the CAs is protecting people and property from natural hazards, such as flooding and erosion,” Lanthier says. “These most recent changes to the CAA and the Planning Act significantly undermine the ability of conservation authorities to successfully do this.”
Doug Hevenor, CAO of the Nottawasaga Conservation Authority, agrees, saying the changes “relinquish our role by taking away our ability to provide science-based input on development applications.
“It restricts our ability to protect lives and infrastructure here in Ontario.”
Essentially, the changes will allow the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to take over decision-making on land development by allowing developers to appeal decisions made by CAs directly to the ministry, Hevenor explains.
“For certain, the proposed changes are going to limit our ability to do what we currently do,” confirms Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario.
“If the decision is made that things will constantly be going to the minister, for instance applications come in and someone is not pleased with their application, and they can just say, ‘OK, well we’re not going to deal with you conservation authority, we’re just going to go up to the minister,’ it really does limit our ability to do our job effectively.
“It puts Ontario’s environment at risk by piecemealing decisions as opposed to using that watershed lens.”
Conservation authorities also will no longer be able to appeal decisions to the province’s Land Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Hevenor says the removal of stop-work orders by conservation authorities is also “potentially harmful.
“Without this tool, CAs must obtain an injunction to stop unauthorized activities, which represents a significant cost to taxpayers. Often, it is these same activities that can cause the greatest damage to water quality, water quantity and the overall health of our environment.”
North Bay-Mattawa spokesperson Sue Buckle also is concerned about the timeline to come up with new agreements with its 10 member municipalities for the non-mandated services it now offers.
It will be “problematic, if not impossible,” to meet a Dec. 31, 2021, deadline, Buckle says.
“We have to, in the next six to eight months, define and agree with the member municipalities and have those agreements approved before the new budget cycle,” she says.
The agreements are required “if any municipal funding is needed to recover costs for the programs or services,” the province says in Bill 229.
The conservation authority, however, is still waiting for the province to define which services fall into the category of non-mandated, Buckle says. That’s expected in the next few weeks.
With files from Jennifer Golletz of Collingwoodtoday.ca and Leah Gerber of Waterloo Region Record under the Local Journalism Initiative program. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.