Developers who get permits through a “political route” would be left with nothing

Toronto, Ont. – Developers and landowners who want to develop on floodplains, wetlands and other hazardous or environmentally sensitive lands should think twice before using newly-created political shortcuts to circumvent or overrule Conservation Authorities. That is the unified message sent today by Ontario’s opposition political parties. Ontario’s Official Opposition New Democratic Party, as well as the Liberal, and Green parties, pledged to restore the powers of Conservation Authorities over development decisions. The New Democratic, Liberal, and Green parties also committed to revoke without compensation any permits that are granted using the lenient and politicized new development approval routes created by the government.

“We hope these commitments from Ontario’s opposition parties will help stem the destruction the government has unleashed on natural features that keep us safe. They send a clear message to developers that if they use new loopholes to get around Conservation Authorities’ decisions, they risk throwing away their investment,” said Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager, Environmental Defence. “The prudent approach for developers and landowners now is to act as though Conservation Authority decisions are final, and to focus on complying with whatever flood and landslide prevention and other environmental constraints they impose.”

Last December, the Ontario government ignored a deafening chorus of warnings from Conservation Authorities, independent experts, farmers, the public, and its own Greenbelt Council, and passed Schedule 6 of Bill 229, which undermined protections against floods, landslides and environmental hazards by hobbling Conservation Authorities. These changes are designed – and are already being used in conjunction with Minister’s Zoning Orders – to unleash residential and commercial sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas, like a Provincially Significant Wetland in Pickering connected to Lower Duffins Creek.

Environmental Defence asked all political parties if they would commit to repeal Bill 229 Schedule 6 in its entirety upon forming government. While the governing Progressive Conservative Party did not respond, all three opposition parties have committed to do exactly that. Specifically, they have committed to:

  • remove the power of the Minister to reconsider and force through development applications already reviewed and rejected by arms-length Conservation Authorities
  • remove the Minister’s power to replace the role of Conservation Authorities in deciding all, or some subset of development permit applications, with a backroom political process
  • end “forced permits”, which Conservation Authorities are obliged to issue (even in the face of serious public safety and environmental concerns) wherever the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has issued a Minister’s Zoning Order
  • repeal the “pay to pave” provisions which force Conservation Authorities to let developers build within and compromise key protected ecological areas provided they pay monetary compensation
  • restore the power of Conservation Authorities to expropriate land required to protect the public, as well as their full research, inspection, and stop work order powers
  • remove the power of private landowners who know or suspect their property contains sensitive features, to conceal that fact by excluding Conservation Authority staff
  • restore the standing of Conservation Authorities as parties to Planning Act Appeals.

“Restoring these powers to Conservation Authorities by revoking Schedule 6 will make all of us safer”, said Dr. Anne Bell of Ontario Nature. “Conservation Authorities’ traditional role in permitting work and broader land use planning protected the wetlands and forested areas that store and slow the speed of flood waters, preventing and mitigating damage caused by floods and landslides.”

In view of the very grave threat to the environment and public safety created by development permits issued using newly-created mechanisms which circumvent or disregard expert and arms-length scrutiny, Environmental Defence asked the major parties to go further, and commit that if and when they form government, they will revoke, using legislation which denies any compensation to developers, any Conservation Authorities Act permits issued by the Minister or forced on Conservation Authorities. Both the Official Opposition Ontario New Democratic Party and the Green Party agreed unambiguously to revoke permits and legislate away any right to compensation. While the Liberal Party did not specify the means of denying compensation, they too committed to revoke the permits, and protect Ontario from any financial liability.

“The swift commitment by these parties to revoke approvals granted under Schedule 6 without compensation is a bold but necessary statement that reflects the severity of the risks they pose to healthy wetlands, woodlands, biodiversity and public safety.” said Katie Krelove, Ontario Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee.

“The Schedule 6 changes to the Conservation Authorities Act are just one part of a dangerous and coordinated policy agenda that is enriching developers of car-dependent residential and commercial sprawl by sacrificing natural heritage and farmland,” said Claire Malcolmson, Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.

“The government’s pro-sprawl agenda, which includes running a new suburban highway through the Greenbelt, pressuring municipalities to expand settlement boundaries by July 2022, suburbanizing large swathes of countryside, and using an unprecedented number of Minister’s Zoning Orders to force through sprawl developments in the interim, have led many of Ontario’s leading environmental NGOs and grassroots groups to band together in pushing back as the ‘Yours To Protect’ coalition,” added Phil Pothen. “Today’s announcement is one of many we hope to make over the coming months as we build consensus among Ontarians of all political stripes around stopping the sprawl agenda and preserving our remaining farmland and natural heritage.”

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For more information and to arrange an interview please contact:

Allen Braude, Environmental Defence, abraude@environmentaldefence.ca

John Hassell, Ontario Nature, johnh@ontarionature.org

Katie Krelove, Wilderness Committee, Ontario Office, katie@wildernesscommittee.org