On December 8, 2020, the provincial government passed Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), including Schedule 6, which makes substantial changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act.
Through the approval process, a number of revisions, amendments and additions were made to the originally proposed Schedule 6 in Bill 229. Some of the revised amendments to Schedule 6 address, to a certain degree, the concerns the GRCA had initially identified through its written submission to the Province on November 24, 2020.
“While the government took into consideration some of our feedback by making revisions to sections in Schedule 6 involving board governance and the ability for conservation authorities to issue stop orders, unfortunately, these changes don’t completely address our concerns,” says Helen Jowett, GRCA Chair.
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.
Further to this, a new section was added to Schedule 6, which will require a conservation authority to issue a permit when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO). In addition, conservation authorities as land owners will not be able to appeal most planning decisions that affect their lands, even though conservation authorities are the second largest landowners in Ontario.
“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,” explains Chair Jowett. “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.”
Most of the amendments will be implemented through new or amended regulations, legal instruments or policies. It is anticipated that the first phase of regulations will be announced in the coming weeks.
“We certainly appreciate the support expressed by watershed municipalities and residents. The GRCA continues to 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. We hope that they will work with us to ensure that the new regulations serve the best interests of the residents of the Grand River watershed and all Ontarians,” says Chair Jowett.
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