More regulatory changes from Ford Conservatives Threaten Ecological Protection, Recreational Trails, Education Programs, Permitting
“I’m not interested in rolling over. I’m interested in fighting for Conservation Authorities … to protect the land, and protect the people, and deal with the flooding issues, and protect the wetlands.” – Hamilton City Councillor and Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board member Brad Clark
A News Commentary from the Hamilton, Ontario-based watchdog group, Citizens At City Hall (CATCH)
Posted January 21st, 2021 on Niagara At Large
Anger and opposition continues to grow against the provincial changes to Conservation Authorities (CAs).
Only a small part of the Ford government’s legislation has come into force so far with the coming year to see more changes via regulations that may threaten ecological protection, recreational trails, education programs, permitting, and other activities of the CAs.
In particular, the province has yet to make public its changed definition of the mandate of the Authorities although there have been strong indications it will be much restricted.
For example, during the December legislature debate on the changes, local Progressive Conservative MPP Donna Skelly pointed to the $15 million annual budget of the Hamilton Conservation Authority and claimed only $2 million is being used for what she called its “core mandate”.
Already finalized changes in the legislation force the Authorities to provide permits for development granted a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) by the province. The MZOs override local planning rules and processes and nearly 40 have been issued this year including for warehouse construction on the provincially significant Duffin’s Creek wetland.
Any permit conditions determined by the CAs are not allowed to conflict with the MZO, and the developer can appeal these conditions. The Authorities are required to allow the developer “to compensate for ecological impacts” and any other impacts of the development. These details and others were presented to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) by its chief administrative officer, Chandra Sharma.
The NPCA much of rural Hamilton east of the airport. It is chaired by city councillor Brenda Johnson and also includes councillor Brad Clark. Their response and that of their colleagues to the Sharma presentation demonstrated the deep anger towards the provincial changes.
NPCA board member Ed Smith declared the rule changes already in place have “transitioned CAs from science-based to politically-based”. He advocated a boycott of the working group that was hastily set up by the province after Bill 229 was passed and is supposed to consult with the CAs on regulatory details.
While the boycott was not endorsed by the NPCA, all other board members who spoke in the hour-long discussion echoed Smith’s frustration. Brad Clark called “rightly outraged” by what has been done and noted that 45,000 emails opposing Bill 229 were sent to the government.
“Conservation Authorities should be standing their ground on the issues that are important to them and they should not acquiesce to the government and should continue to push to ensure that the policies are changed to what they should be,” Clark declared.
“I’m not interested in rolling over. I’m interested in fighting for Conservation Authorities … to protect the land, and protect the people, and deal with the flooding issues, and protect the wetlands, etc.”
Like Smith, Clark slammed the government’s new advisory group, although he acknowledged that CAs have no option but to work with it. “Personally I find it insulting when they set up a working group when we already have Conservation Ontario,” Clark fumed. “Why is it that they didn’t want to work with Conservation Ontario?”
Conservation Ontario is the long-standing association which represents the thirty-six CAs in the province. It says the provincial changes will break down environmental resilience, and is demanding the CAs be relieved of legal liability for the permits they are being forced to issue.
Clark also said he has no intention of bowing to the province’s demand to cut citizen members from the CA boards. He will advocate that Hamilton council ignore this and “let the government demonstrate to the courts why we shouldn’t have citizen members.”
Earlier this January, over 1200 people participated in an on-line meeting organized by Environmental Defence to build more opposition to the gutting of the Authorities. One of the speakers was David Crombie who resigned in protest as chair of the Greenbelt Council along with eight others because of the Ford government actions.
He noted that 2021 is the 75^th anniversary of Conservation Authorities and said their mandate needs to be strengthened, not weakened: “How we treat CAs in this province will tell us how we treat our environment. If the CAs are diminished, so are we. And if they flourish so will we.”
Anne Bell from Ontario Nature warned that with MZOs “developers smell blood” because these orders are “the perfect tool for sneaking through development” especially “in places where it would not normally be tolerated” such as provincially significant wetlands that have been off-limits for decades.
The changes to the CAs and the proliferation of MZOs have also been slammed by the editors of the Globe and Mail who say the province has “neutered the provincial bodies that protect natural areas and watersheds” and are “selling out the future” as a consequence.
The business paper pointed to an MZO given to “a development company whose owner has donated thousands of dollars to the Ontario PC Party [and who] will be able to pave over a 57-acre lot in the Toronto suburb of Pickering that is under protection as a ‘provincially significant wetland’ and build a distribution centre.”
Find this article on the CATCH website here (https://hamiltoncatch.us20.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8ffda5515733a1dd97a7b21fa&id=0d76fd1fab&e=a31ab29d46) , along with the full archive of CATCH articles.
Citizens at City Hall in Hamilton, Ontario
For a story posted in Niagara At Large late last year, listing numerous links to articles on the Ford government’s assault on Conservation Authorities, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2020/11/23/npca-applauds-growing-interest-in-support-for-ontarios-conservation-authorities/ .
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