Controversial changes to Conservation Authorities pass

Warwick Conservation Area
Warwick Conservation Area

Heather Wright/The Independent

The province has gained more power over development after passing Bill 229 which significantly changes how conservation authorities do their business.

The provincial government forced the final reading of a budget bill which included a section changing the rules around conservation authorities. They included giving ministers more authority to override the decisions of the conservation authorities which protect the watershed – even if those developments don’t meet the requirements set out in the Conservation Act. Bill 229 also took away the authorities’ right to appeal if they felt a project would harm the environment.

It’s a move the general manager of the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority, Brian McDougall, says may cause environmental problems in the long run.

“These criteria were developed to protect the lives and property of our watershed community against flooding and other natural hazards,” he said in a news release.
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Big City Mayors, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and more than 64 citizens and environmental organizations opposed the changes which were passed Tuesday afternoon just before the Ontario Legislature recessed until mid February.

“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, themselves,” says Kim Gavine, the general manager of Conservation Ontario.

“Using an overburdened tribunal system, allowing applicants to appeal CA decisions directly to the minister and – ensuring compliance around the Minister’s permits will be some of what creates those delays and costs.”

Not everyone was opposed to the changes. Warwick Deputy Mayor Jerry Westgate, who is on the St. Clair board, started to object at Monday’s council meeting, when Mayor Jackie Rombouts interjected.

“People that I’ve talked to from the county say they’re good changes in their opinion…that conservation authorities – this is just what I’ve heard – in talking with some friends trying to get things approved, even townships themselves, are having a hard time getting approved,” she told councillors.