On Monday, November 23, 2020, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) General Membership held a special board meeting to review and discuss the Province’s proposed changes 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).
While the GRCA board expressed support for the Province’s stated objectives to modernize the Conservation Authorities Act, and enhance transparency and accountability, the board also voiced deep concern that some of the proposed changes may have a considerable impact on conservation authorities, their watershed management responsibilities, and consequently, on the health and wellness of the Grand River watershed and its residents.
If enacted, a number of these changes will significantly impact the role of the conservation authority board to establish and subsequently offer programs and services. As well, the proposed amendments will enable regulations that would either limit or completely change the role of conservation authorities in protecting Ontario’s environment and ensuring people and property are safe from natural hazards like flooding.
At the meeting, board members passed a motion requesting staff to send GRCA Report GM-11-20-85 Proposed Amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act through Bill 229 to the Premier of Ontario, the Ministers of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Natural Resources and Forestry, Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Finance, as well as all watershed MPPs, watershed municipalities, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association. The report outlines the proposed changes in five key areas of concern for the GRCA: Objects, Powers and Duties; Regulatory; Enforcement; Governance and Other.
“In the Grand River watershed, the GRCA plays a critical role in protecting our environment and natural heritage, mitigating the impacts of flooding and other natural hazards, ensuring safe drinking water and supporting municipal partners with Planning Act applications,” says GRCA Chair Helen Jowett. “This legislation introduces a number of changes that could remove or significantly limit the GRCA’s ability to manage watershed natural resources and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards. I would encourage watershed municipalities and residents to contact their local MPP and ask that the Province of Ontario work with conservation authorities to address our shared concerns before these changes are enacted.”
Summary of GRCA response to proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act
The GRCA requests that:
• the clause in Section 21.1.2 of the Bill be edited to remove the ability for the Minister to prescribe standards and requirements for non-mandatory, municipal and local programs and services;
• the amendment to the Planning Act be removed from Schedule 6 of Bill 229;
• Bill 229 Schedule 6 clauses in S.28 be amended by removing references to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and replacing it with the Mining and Lands Tribunal;
• the existing un-proclaimed clauses in the Conservation Authorities Act 2019 related to Powers of entry (30.2) and Stop Order (30.4) remain in the Conservation Authorities Act and proposed amendments related to these clauses be removed from Bill 229 Schedule 6;
• the wording for fiduciary responsibilities in the CA Act be amended back to: “Every member of an authority shall act honestly and in good faith with a view to furthering the objects of the authority”; and that
• a future regulation regarding the transition plan have an implementation date that is 18-24 months after the regulation is approved.
Most of the amendments proposed would be implemented through new or amended regulations, legal instruments or policies. 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. It is anticipated that the first phase of regulations are set to come out in the coming weeks.
“The GRCA will offer its assistance and technical expertise to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on any working groups or technical committees established to review future changes to the regulations, policies or provincial standards related to the implementation of the Conservation Authorities Act,” continues Chair Jowett.
Further details on the changes to the CA Act as well as Ontario’s 2020 Budget are posted on the Province’s website. Further information regarding the impact of these changes on conservation authorities and their ability to conserve and restore Ontario’s important natural resources is available on Conservation Ontario’s website, along with the contact information of provincial elected officials.
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.
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