Ontario’s Conservation Authorities: Lame Ducks Under Schedule 6

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229

Hidden within Ontario’s bill 229, which is a budgetary bill supposedly addressing the economic recovery process from Covid-19 (Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from Covid-19 Act, Budget Measures Act) is Schedule 6, which will enable provincial ministers to override the protective powers of the Conservation Authorities.

North Dundas is in the South Nation watershed, and as such is under the oversight of the South Nation Conservation Authority. South Nation Conservation manages 4441 square kilometers of land in Eastern Ontario. There are 36 Conservation Authorities in Ontario designed and mandated to ensure the conservation, restoration, and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land, and natural habitat. These water management agencies work with all levels of government, landowners, other organisations, and the public. They protect water and other natural resources using an integrated watershed management approach, balancing the needs of the environment, society, and the economy.
Environmental challenges have rapidly increased recently from the impacts of climate change and rapid urbanisation.

Ontario municipalities began establishing Conservation Authorities in the 1940s due to severe flooding and erosion in many areas of Ontario. The Conservation Authorities Act of 1946 established rules about how they operated. They are either charitable or non-profit, and each has its own Board of Directors made up of members appointed by local municipalities, including mostly elected municipal officials. The devastation of Hurricane Hazel to parts of Ontario in 1954 necessitated amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act, which allowed and encouraged Conservation Authorities to acquire and regulate land for recreation and conservation purposes. When forests and wetlands of a particular watershed are protected, and trees planted, there is less flooding.

South Nation Conservation is governed by a board, comprised of 12 representatives from 16 municipalities across the watershed, including two councillors from SD&G.
Schedule 6 of Bill 229 will make serious changes to Conservation Authorities Act. It is buried in an omnibus budget bill. This totally circumvents proper consultation procedures. The changes in significantly undermine the powers of the Conservation Authorities and invest much more power with cabinet and ministers to override any decisions or recommendations of a Conservation, without any possibility of appeal. Conservation Ontario maintains that these changes will add significant delays and costs to the work of the CAs. They could also significantly impede Ontario’s ability to provide cost-effective flood management and protection for drinking water. The changes will encourage decisions be made without consideration of the watershed science and data provided by conservation authorities. They will limit the ability of the CAs to have any say in land use, make enforcement difficult or impossible, making legal challenges impossible, and giving the minister the power to override CAs authority.

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