One of Canada’s Leading Environmental Law Groups Issues “ACTION ALERT” on Ford’s Move to Possibly Gut Ontario’s Conservation Rules

ACTION ALERT – Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act – Rules that Help Protect Our Wetlands, Woodlands and Natural Heritage as a whole from Urban Planning that is Destructive and Environmentally Unsustainable – Is At Risk

Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act Is Under Review (Again) – Please Participate in Support of Maintaining Strong Watershed Protection

An Alert to All of Us from the Canadian Environmental Law Association, one of our country’s oldest and most repsected non-profit organization for protecting our natural hertiage

Posted March 1st, 2020 on Niagara At Large

February 27, 2020 – Urgent action is needed in Ontario to reverse biodiversity loss and ensure our communities are climate resilient. Now is the time for increased public investment in the province’s conservation authorities.

The Ontario government has recently released an online survey <https://www.ontario.ca/page/consultation-ontario-conservation-authorities> seeking input on the role of Conservation Authorities with a response deadline of March 13, 2020. Now is the time to make your voice heard.

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) is seeking limited input on further changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, despite multiple recent modernization actions. 

Prior modernization actions have already occurred in 2017 and 2019; in both instances changes were made to the Conservation Authorities Act. CELA, with our client communities, submitted comments, which are available on our website (2017 <https://cela.ca/proposed-amendments-to-the-conservation-authorities-act-as-part-of-bill-139-the-building-better-communities-and-conserving-watersheds-act-2017/> and 2019) <https://cela.ca/proposed-amendments-to-the-conservation-authorities-act-as-part-of-bill-139-the-building-better-communities-and-conserving-watersheds-act-2017/>.

In addition to the most recent changes to the Act, Ontario has reduced funding for flood programs by half <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-flooding-cuts-conservation-1.5105897> and requested that programs be wound down <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/london-ontario-conservation-authority-1.5252717> prior to creating the regulations necessary to implement changes to funding models, programs and services.

This most recent consultation process includes invitation-only meetings and an online survey.

CELA is concerned that the importance of conservation authorities is not being adequately considered within these constrained consultations, and that governmental action may be taken to further reduce their mandate.

Environmental voices at MECP’s multi-stakeholder meetings have been very limited. Some participants called for removal of conservation authorities from land use planning processes and for limits to be placed on their mandate and scope.  

Ontario’s conservation authority model is the envy of other jurisdictions, particularly within the Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin.

A comprehensive, coordinated, and watershed-based regime is critical in protecting drinking water sources, reducing flood risk, and monitoring and data collection.

Unfortunately, the oversight of conservation authorities has been split between two Ministries – MECP and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Further, the current approach on consultation by the province is siloed and uncoordinated. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been consulting on the intersection of the Drainage Act with conservation authorities (see the Environmental Registry Notice <https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1187> and CELA’s letter <https://cela.ca/proposed-changes-to-drainage-act/>) at the same time that MECP is running their meetings.

CELA urges those concerned about watershed planning and protection in Ontario to participate in the online survey . To participate, click on – <https://www.ontario.ca/page/consultation-ontario-conservation-authorities>.

Consider the following points in your survey responses and answer however much of the survey you can. Personal experiences with conservation authorities and conservation areas are worth including.

In other Great Lakes jurisdiction, like the State of Ohio across Lake Erie from Niagara, Ontario and neighbouring regions, this is where a lack of flood protection plans and regulations can get you.

For more information, refer to the backgrounder and meeting presentation from Conservation Ontario, online at: https://conservationontario.ca/policy-priorities/conservation-authorities-act/ <https://conservationontario.ca/policy-priorities/conservation-authorities-act/>.

Issues to consider as you respond to the survey:

The conservation authorities’ (CAs) role in Planning Act and Environmental Assessment Act decisions ensure that floodplains and natural heritage are protected from developments and flooding risks are avoided. CAs must continue to be involved in planning decisions.

In other jurisdictions, such as Ohio, a lack of legislative or regulatory authority over watersheds creates a major barrier to meaningful watershed planning and flood protection.

Watershed scale monitoring and planning support the “core” CA programs of flood mitigation, natural hazards, drinking water source protection, and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

Monitoring programs are necessary for delivery of these “core” programs as required in provincial law and regulations. Such monitoring also greatly assists broader environmental goals of land conservation, improving water quality, and ecological restoration.

The Flood Advisor’s report <https://news.ontario.ca/mnr/en/2019/11/ontario-releases-report-from-special-advisor-on-flooding.html> showed strong support for the CA model in protecting Ontario from the risks of climate change.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford visiting some of the water swamped communities in the Ottawa area during the spring of 2019. Despite all of the destruction he saw, he cut funding for Conservation Authorities to move forward with flood management plans anyway because some landowners and members of the development industry lobbied him to.

This model only works if CAs retain regulatory power to intervene on planning decisions to ensure watershed resilience to climate change and flooding. 

CAs partner with local environmental and conservation groups, farmers, and their communities to deliver regionally significant projects including rehabilitating natural heritage, implementing agricultural best practices, and restoring or creating wetlands. They often provide match funding, in addition to the on-the-ground expertise and relationships with the local community.

To read about this on the Canadian Environmental Law Association’s website, click on the following links – https://cela.ca/action-alert-ontarios-conservation-authorities-act-at-risk/ <https://cela.ca/action-alert-ontarios-conservation-authorities-act-at-risk/>

A Brief Footnote from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –

I am not exaggerating at all when I say that in all of my four decades as a journalists, including my many years as an award-winning environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, no government in Ontario – not even the Mike Harris government – has posed as much of an existential threat to our air, waters, forests and diversity of wildlife in this province as that of Doug Ford and rest of the right-wing extremists that make up his Conversative.

And what is wrong with the development industry in Ontario? Don’t they care about working to save what is left of our natural heritage for the kids?

I know there are some good, responsible developers out there. Why are they letting the bad ones tar the whole industry?

It’s time for them to speak out! Show us you care.

To read another call-out from the great conservation group Ontario Nature for Ford to stop what he is doing to our environment, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/02/28/say-no-to-cuts-to-ontarios-conservation-authorities/

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

A Reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For More News And Commentary From Niagara At Large – An independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara Region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com .

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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