Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) Chair Helen Jowett (right) is convening a special meeting of the GRCA board for members to review and discuss the Province’s proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act.
On November 5, the provincial government identified a number of legislative amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act through Schedule 6 in Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures).
The GRCA is encouraged that the Conservation Authorities Act continues to provide for a watershed-based approach to conservation, restoration, source water protection and natural hazards management. The GRCA is also supportive of the Province’s stated objectives to modernize the Act, enhance transparency and accountability. However, the GRCA is concerned that some of the proposed changes, if enacted, may have a significant impact on conservation authorities and their watershed management responsibilities.
“The GRCA has a long history of working collaboratively with all levels of government to help ensure the responsible management of water, land and natural habitats within the Grand River watershed,” says Helen Jowett, GRCA Chair. “This legislation introduces a number of changes that could remove or significantly hinder the GRCA’s role to manage watershed natural resources and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards. Our watershed municipalities value and rely on the natural habitats and water resources for the health and well-being of residents, and we depend on the work of the GRCA to mitigate the impacts of flooding and ensure safe drinking water.”
Key highlights of the proposed changes
The proposed changes, if enacted:
· remove and/or significantly hinder the GRCA’s role in regulating development, the permit and planning application appeal process and engaging in review and appeal of municipal planning applications. This change would also limit the GRCA’s ability as a landowner to appeal planning decisions. The GRCA owns approximately 50,000 acres of land throughout the watershed to support flood hazard management, maintain a reliable water supply, protect natural areas and biodiversity, and manage other environmentally sensitive natural lands.
· allow the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to make decisions on permit appeals and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from the conservation authorities.
· remove stop work orders as an important compliance tool for illegal activities in natural hazard areas such as floodplains.
· redirect the fiduciary role (Duty of Members) for municipally appointed CA Board members, who would make decisions in the best interest of the municipalities and not the GRCA.
Also included is the proposed amendment that a conservation authority will be required to enter into agreements with participating municipalities if any municipal funding is needed to recover costs for programs and/or services considered non-mandatory. Further details on the changes to the CA Act as well as Ontario’s 2020 Budget are posted on the Province’s website.
At this time, the Province has not yet provided the supporting regulations and policies that will provide a more complete understanding of how the changes are to be implemented and the full impact, both locally on the GRCA, and more broadly on all conservation authorities across the province.
The special board meeting will be held on Monday, November 23, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. and will be streamed live for members of the public on the GRCA’s website. GRCA staff have been thoroughly reviewing the proposed changes and are preparing a report and presentation that will further outline the potential impact of the proposed changes within the Grand River watershed. A copy of the report will be available on the GRCA’s website no later than Friday, November 20, 2020.
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