We have recently reported on the strenuous objections put forward by conservation authorities across Ontario to the government’s recent piece of legislation, the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act, 2020. In particular, Section 6 of the Act was the source of considerable concern by both the conservation authorities and municipalities, as it would require a conservation authority to issue a permit when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO), which can override a conservation authority’s watershed-based decision. The new section requires the conservation authority to issue the permit even if the application does not meet their criteria for issuing a permit and/or contravenes provincial policies and plans. Municipalities were upset that the new law required councils to appoint members to conservation authorities, putting them in a possible conflict situation.
The Act received royal consent on December 8, complete with Section 6. However, the province then announced that, upon hearing the complaints put forward, they were putting in place a working group to help implement changes to conservation authorities, and to “provide input on the development of proposed regulations under the Conservation Authorities Act, and on how conservation authorities are governed. This would be done through co-operation on drawing up the Regulations under which the Act is implemented.
A statement from the province stated: “The new working group will include representatives from conservation authorities and other experts. Representatives of the working group will be announced in the coming weeks. Once they begin work in January, the working group will provide input to help the province develop regulations that will focus on:
- The mandatory core programs and services conservation authorities would be required to provide,
- The agreements between municipalities and conservation authorities and the transition period associated with non-mandatory programs and services, and
- How local members of the community can participate in their conservation authorities through community advisory boards.”
Hassaan Basit, President and CEO of Conservation Halton, will chair the new group, and issued the following statement on his appointment: “Alongside conservation authorities across Ontario, Conservation Halton is looking forward to working with the province, offering scientific expertise and leadership, in the development of regulations pertaining to recent amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act contained in Bill 229.”
The South Nation Conservation welcomed the development, and thanked all those in the wider community whose complaints to local MPP’s helped bring it about.
“We are thankful to the province for providing Conservation Authorities the opportunity to sit at the table and discuss and provide input to proposed changes to regulations.
We also thank our community partners and area residents who have voiced their support for SNC and Conservation Authorities”.
In addition to the input provided by Hassaan Basit and the working group, Ontario will also be seeking the public’s feedback on regulatory and governance proposals through the Environmental Registry. Public consultation on these proposals is also expected to begin early in the new year.