Changes To Ontario’s Conservation Authority Act Will Impact NPCA Watershed Protection Programs in Niagara

Provincial Changes To Conservation Authorities Act Will Impact NPCA Watershed Management Approach And Progress Made On Auditor General Recommendations

A Response from Chandra Sharma, CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, to Plans by Ontario’s Ford Government to Gut & Scale the NPCA and 35 other Conservation Authorities across the Province like a Lake Trout

Posted November 14th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

NPCA CAO Chandra Sharma finally responds to Ford government’s plans to eviscerate Conservation Authorities. Is her response strong enough?

Niagara, Ontario – (The Ford government’s) Bill 229 contains new rules for Board appointments, changes to conservation authorities’ planning role and creation of new Ministerial powers

On November . 5the , the Province of Ontario tabled omnibus budget measures Bill 229, which proposes fundamental changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and to the conservation authorities’ role in land use planning.

These changes will significantly compromise and in some cases, completely change the role of conservation authorities to protect Ontario’s environment and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards.

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic brought home the critical need for investment in green infrastructure for the health and well being of our communities. We anticipate provincial support and amendments that enable us to carry on with this important work,” says Chandra Sharma, CAO/Secretary-Treasurer at Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

 “The NPCA was challenged to deploy our limited resources on the frontlines to ensure people can safely enjoy our natural resources. We believe we are contributing significantly to the local economy by optimizing our natural assets for residents in these difficult times.

We are disappointed that the proposed changes are contrary to many of the enabling recommendations of the Auditor General of Ontario, which the NPCA has worked so hard to deliver on over the past few years.”

Highlights of Proposed Key Changes:

  • Remove and/or significantly hinder the conservation authorities’ role in regulating development, permit and planning application appeal process and engaging in appeal of municipal planning applications.
  • Allow the Minister to review and override permit decisions made by conservation authorities and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from the conservation authorities.
  • Redirect the fiduciary role (Duty of Members) for municipally appointed conservation authority Board members.

The Wainfleet Bog in Niagara South is one of the many natural treasures our Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority works to protect and preserve for future generations in our Niagara region

The new rules for Board appointments are in contradiction to the Auditor General of Ontario recommendations 4 and 5 in the September 2018, Special Audit of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

“These changes will impact how board members make decisions, based on the interest of the municipalities and not the conservation authority and watersheds they serve,” adds Brenda Johnson, NPCA Board Chair. “It will force us to take a step back when we’ve already made incredible progress.”

Over the past two years, NPCA has invested significant time and resources to successfully deliver on the Auditor General of Ontario’s Special Audit, specifically related to strengthening NPCA’s Planning and Enforcement functions as well as Governance related matters.

The NPCA is putting forth the following recommendations for consideration of the Province

That the proposed Schedule 6 not be enacted in its present form and that Ministry officials continue to work with conservation authorities in good faith on regulations as proposed under previous Bill 108. 

That the Natural Resource Mandate of Conservation Authorities as stated in Section 20 be respected, to allow for important work on watershed-scale monitoring, data collection management and modelling; watershed-scale studies, plans, assessments and strategies; and watershed-wide actions including stewardship, communication, outreach and education activities that protect our environment on a watershed basis.

That an amendment be made to not limit conservation authorities’ appeals as a public body to conformity with section 3.1 (natural hazards) of the Provincial Policy Statement.

That the proposed changes to the Section 28 regulation be amended or repealed to allow conservation authorities a more progressive enforcement of watershed resources for the health and safety of communities as recommended by the Auditor General of Ontario.

That prescribing standards and requirements for Non-Mandatory (i.e. Local) programs and services be left with conservation authorities and their local municipal partners.   

That Governance Changes related to the ‘Duty of Members’ from furthering the objects of the authority to representing the interest of their municipality be repealed.

That Board appointments remain the decision of the municipality in consultation with conservation authorities.

The NPCA remains hopeful that through a collaborative approach, conservation authorities will be able to work with the Ministry to address concerns regarding potential limitations in the protection, restoration, and enhancement of local watersheds. This legislation has been largely untouched for almost 100 years and any amendments made should continue to ensure that conservation authorities like the NPCA can deliver on its hazard management role, not only to protect the health and safety of communities, but to provide much needed greenspace to residents.

Learn more about the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority at www.npca.ca. Follow Facebook and Twitter for more updates.

About NPCA – The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is a community-based natural resource management agency that works to protect, enhance, and sustain healthy watersheds. With 60 years of experience, the NPCA offers watershed programs and services that focus on flood and hazard management, source water protection, species protection, ecosystem restoration, community stewardship, and land management. 

The NPCA is one of 36 Conservation Authorities in the Province of Ontario and manages 41 Conservation Areas within the Niagara Peninsula watershed held in public trust for recreation, heritage preservation, conservation, and education. These natural and shared greenspaces marry nature, culture, and adventure to create limitless opportunities for discovery.

A Footnote by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –

If Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Conservatives have their way, the blade of the guillotine is going down on our Conservation Authorities – all in the name of making it easier for the development industry to pave over what is left of our natural heritage

Do you think that the response above, from Chandra Sharma, CAO of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, was strong enough while the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities across the province have their head on the chopping block of Premier Doug Ford’s guillotine?

I must say that at a time when seasoned environmental lawyers across Ontario, major environmental organizations in Canada, and citizens across Ontario and right here in Niagara, are speaking out so forcefully against Ford’s plan to dismember Conservation Authorites, I don’t

I will have more to say about the NPCA CAO’s wet-noodle response to this attack on our natural heritage in our region of Niagara in the days to come.

  • Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

To learn more about what Ontario’s Ford government is doing to gut the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities across the province, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/11/13/action-alert-we-need-our-conservation-authorities/

For another recent news commentary on this issue, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/11/12/ontarios-ford-government-is-moving-to-gut-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 Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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