Many of you have written or called your MPP expressing concern about the attacks on our wetlands, forests and safety included in the Ontario government’s attack on Conservation Authorities contained schedule 6 of Bill 229 – the budget bill. Thank you for doing that. If you have not yet written your MPP you can do that here.
You may have received a form letter reply that contains misleading and false characterizations of the proposed changes. To help you better understand what is going on, I have taken a sample of this letter and provided responses that you can use to follow up with your MPP and/or to use when speaking with friends and neighbours about the province’s proposed gutting of Conservation Authorities.
You may also want to use this information to write a letter to your local newspaper, post in on-line community bulletin boards or to write to your Town or City Council to ask for their support.
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more information. All the best and thanks for fighting for the future of Ontario.
Typical Ontario government claims in italics and our reply/explanation in bold.
Typical MPP Claim: Thank you for your email and sharing your concerns about the proposals in Bill 229, Schedule 6 with regards to conservation authorities (CA). I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
Over the past year and a half, the government has consulted on the core role of CAs in preparing and protecting against the impacts of natural hazards, maintaining and managing conservation lands, and their role in drinking water source protection. Through the consultations we have heard concerns that conservation authorities have expanded their programs and services beyond their core mandate.
Our Reply: Many staff from groups like Environmental Defence and Conservation Authorities (CAs) attended these consultation sessions. The Ontario government has never published a summary of the input received. As a result the public has no way of knowing what the purported consultation summary actually says. The only groups present at the consultations that expressed the view that Conservation Authorities have “moved beyond their core mandate” were developers and extreme landowner rights groups who do not want the CAs to question or modify their plans to pave over wetlands, forests and river valleys or to be concerned about the community-wide impacts and costs of development.
Typical MPP Claim: We are moving forward with a proposal to further define their core mandate, which will improve the governance, oversight and accountability of conservation authorities, while respecting taxpayer dollars by giving municipalities more say over the conservation authority services that they pay for. For example the proposed amendment includes the requirement of CAs to publish information such as audited financial statements and meeting minutes. This change will increase the consistency and transparency of the operations and decisions made, holding them accountable to municipalities and to property taxpayers.
Our Reply: There is nothing that is not transparent about Conservation Authorities now and they have been providing value for money for 60 years. Municipalities already have a huge say over the CA’s budgets and many CAs get most or all of their money from programs that they run for the public or services that they provide to Municipalities that the Municipalities would otherwise have to pay for on their own, or do without. Conservation Authorities have changed with the times, and in addition to flood control they have become key protectors of the small remaining amount of natural lands in southern and central Ontario. Conservation Authorities now collectively own and manage approximately 500 conservation areas across the province with approximately 300 of them available to the general public. Through the conservation areas, they provide a wide variety of year round outdoor recreation opportunities, nature-based events and environmental education programs. If protecting these lands is stripped away who will look after these lands and provide these programs?
Typical MPP Claim: The proposal also includes new opportunities for local members of the community to participate in the CA process through community advisory boards.
Our Reply: The draft legislation proposes to remove non-politicians from the Boards of CAs and remove the requirement that CA Board members act in the best interest of the Authority. Instead, it is proposed that Board members be legally required to advocate for only the narrow views of their home municipality. This means CA Board members will be prohibited from thinking first of the watershed management focus of the CA and instead to think narrowly about the administrative boundary of their municipality. This legally undermines the function and purpose of the CAs.
Typical MPP Claim: These changes are about ensuring that CAs are able to focus, not only on protecting people and property against the impact of natural hazards like flooding, but also on conserving and managing conservation land. As landowners, CAs will continue to conserve and manage their lands, which includes natural heritage features as defined under the Provincial Policy Statement.
Our Reply: Categorically false. The proposed legislation will allow developers to by-pass CAs and get permits to develop in wetlands, floodplains and forests directly from the provincial government. It also provides fast track by-pass for developers of CAs’ science-based permitting process. This change is being pushed through even though CAs almost always work with developers to make their projects successful. For example, Conservation Halton has denied only one permit in the last four years and 1000 have been issued. Province-wide 92 per cent of all permit applications to Conservation Authorities were approved and only 28 appealed to the Mining and Lands Tribunal in 2018. The government’s proposed changes are gifts to developers at our expense. They will also remove the ability of CAs to buy land that should not be developed at fair market value in areas of extreme risk (like the valley lands flooded by Hurricane Hazel).
Typical MPP Claim: CAs are mandated to conserve and protect provincially significant conservation lands as defined under the Conservation Land Act and in provincial policy for significant wetlands, areas of scientific and natural interest (ANSIs), the Niagara Escarpment, habitat of endangered species, and management for invasive species control.
In the coming weeks, the ministry will be consulting further on the regulatory proposals, including mandatory programs and services CAs must provide and the regulation outlining the agreements between CAs and municipalities.
Our Reply: The budget legislation proposes to allow developers to sidestep the Conservation Authorities and get permits to destroy these areas directly from the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, therefore removing science review of potentially risky developments and politicizing the approval process.
Typical MMP Claim: Some participating municipalities of a Conservation Authority have expressed concern about the increases to their municipal levies that they are required to pay under the Conservation Authorities Act to finance their respective conservation authorities
Our Reply: In fact municipalities have expressed concern that they have to keep paying more as the province has not provided inflationary increases to the CA transfer payment since 1996; or that the province cut what was left of the transfer payment in half in 2019, such that the municipalities are on the hook for more of the CA budget. Municipalities are also not likely aware that the proposal to add source water protection to the mandatory programs of a CA will now be added to their levy resulting in a substantial increase. Overall the province provides approximately $3.5 million shared among 36 conservation authorities. That’s about $100,000 per authority and it can only be used for hazard management related staffing and functions.
Typical MPP Claim: Some participating municipalities of a Conservation Authority have expressed concern about the lack of direct control that participating municipalities may have over CA budgets.
Our Reply: Municipalities sit on the board of the CA where the budget is presented annually for endorsement/approval before the levy is set and then sent to the respective municipality. How can this be not supportive when they had the power to vote on the CA budget quantum with their peers? This is one of the roles of the board – oversight and approval of the CA budget.
Thank you all for standing up for Conservation Authorities. For more information on why Conservation Authorities matter please see this blog.
Your support during these uncertain times is crucial for us to continue our work in protecting the environment and the health of our communities. If you can, we hope you can make a contribution to support our efforts.
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