The Province of Ontario has missed a chance to show it is listening to Ontarians who care about their environment, according to Conservation Ontario.
Ontario’s Budget Measures Act (Bill 229) was passed on December 8, 2020 with Schedule 6 intact. Conservation Ontario noted that Schedule 6 includes amendments that provide new powers for the Minister to bypass conservation authorities and issue permits. Schedule 6 also curtails the ability of conservation authorities to appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
“The Budget Bill is all about financial recovery from pandemic conditions and this could have easily been accomplished in ways that didn’t sacrifice Ontario’s environment and our unique watershed approach” said Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario. Conservation Ontario is the agency that represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities.
“A more proactive approach may have been to use this bill to support the development of a stream of new, greener economic activities that would boost the economy and help to build environmental resilience, not break it down,” added Gavine.
Conservation authorities had hoped that the Province would withdraw Schedule 6 from Bill 229 in response to calls from conservation authorities, municipalities, environmental agencies, agricultural agencies, Indigenous organizations, and thousands of individual Ontarians.
“It was really fantastic to see the wide range of people and agencies who understood the importance of what was happening,” said Gavine. “They immediately picked up on both the short-and long-term impacts of these changes and were very direct in their messages to the Province. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t enough.”
Gavine noted that conservation authorities and Conservation Ontario now have to direct their attention to the regulations that provide the details around the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. She hopes they will get the attention, assessment, and public input they deserve.
“Our challenge, now, will be to operationalize the Province’s amendments, which we’re quite certain will create additional delays and costs for municipalities, applicants, and conservation authorities,” said Gavine. “Using an overburdened tribunal system (Local Planning Appeal Tribunal), allowing applicants to appeal [conservation authority] decisions directly to the Minister and—ensuring compliance around the Minister’s permits will be some of what creates those delays and costs.”