A month ago, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) and local supporters began to worry as the government of Ontario was set to pass Bill 229, which included amendments (Schedule 6) that would make changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act. The agency argued such changes would significantly hamper its ability to provide services as they normally would.
Hosting a special meeting, the GRCA board voted to send to the government a list of concerns and proposed changes. Alongside the GRCA, local municipalities such as the Township of Wellesley also voted to send letters of concern to government officials.
On December 8, the government passed Bill 229 and Schedule 6, with additions, revisions and amendments made to the original proposal. While revisions showed some consideration was taken by the government with regards to the GRCA’s concerns, Helen Jowett, chair of the GRCA, says they do not completely address their concerns.
“Many amendments made to the Conservation Authorities Act through Schedule 6 remain unchanged, such as those that remove and/or significantly hinder the conservation authorities role in regulating development. The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry will have the ability to make decisions on permit appeals and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from the conservation authorities,” said Jowett in a release.
Some of the changes made involve board governance and the ability for conservation authorities to issue stop orders. However, some of the bigger issues such as the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry having the ability to make decisions on permit appeals and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from conservation authorities like the GRCA, remain.
Revisions also included a new section to Schedule 6 which will require conservation authorities to comply when the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues a minister’s zoning order. Also, conservation authorities as landowners will not be able to appeal most planning decisions which affect their land.
Jowett says she believes these changes come after conservation authorities spoke about concerns regarding operational negligence.
She says next steps involve continuing to speak with ministers and policy advisors so they can try to come to some kind of compromise. She adds she is hopeful, and will be keeping the door open, knowing the intent of the government. The goal is to support agencies in the best way they can while also continuing to do the work they have for many years supporting municipalities under their jurisdiction.
“The GRCA has a long history of working collaboratively with its watershed municipalities, the farming community, developers, and its many stakeholders to ensure that the need for development and growth is balanced with the need to protect Ontario’s environment, and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards like flooding. We have always supported the government’s stated objectives to modernize the Conservation Authorities Act, enhance transparency and accountability, and have been working with them to share our technical expertise and feedback. It’s disappointing that the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, passed through Schedule 6 in Bill 229, go well beyond their stated objectives.”