ontario conservation authorities

Doug Ford's government is giving developers the power to ignore conservation authorities

The provincial government is once again being accused of abusing its regulatory powers to satisfy the needs of property developers — this time, at the expense of our natural environment.

It all started with the release of Ontario's 2020 budget last Thursday.

Overwhelmingly long at 250 pages, the budget document contains a whole host of proposed amendments to existing provincial acts, one of which affects the Conservation Authorities Act of 1990.

Environmental advocates sounded the alarm almost immediately after the budget was released, noting that "changes have been made to the planning role for conservation authorities which could actually put more people at threat, rather than protect them from natural hazards."

"There are a number of changes that we feel could have significant impact on conservation authorities, and on their watershed management responsibilities," said Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario (CO), which represents the province's 36 conservation authorities, in a statement.

CO and other groups, such as Environmental Defence, take up particular issue with changes around new rules for board appointments, the scoping of non-mandatory programs, and the creation of new Ministerial powers.

As explained by the Toronto Star's Noor Javed, "the legislation takes away the role of the conservation authorities to provide science-based input on development applications... and puts the power to issue permits for contentious developments directly into the hands of the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry."

This, says Javed, allows decisions "potentially to be made based on political influence rather than what is best for the environment."

It wouldn't be the first time Ford's government has been publicly slammed for overreaching in such a way: Just a few weeks ago, the province was widely criticized for issuing a Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO) to effectively bypass municipal authorities and approve a new condo development in the West Don Lands.

"The impact of these MZOs is the shuttering of community input, side stepping of the municipal process, and raises new questions as to how the City can now properly plan these sites," reads a joint statement from city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Joe Cressy published on October 26 in response to the Canary District condo project.

"This move to impose new zoning without consulting the public or the City of Toronto sets a dangerous precedent for the development of other provincial lands in Toronto and across the Greater Toronto Area, including future transit-oriented development above GO stations and subway stations."

Environmental groups worry that the PC government's proposed changes to conservation laws mean that the province will similarly be able to "override" science-based objections to developments on protected lands.

"This legislation has taken away all the teeth the conservation authorities had to protect the environment," said Tim Gray of Environmental Defense to the Toronto Star in a piece published Wednesday.

"They can still give advice, but a developer can say, 'Thanks, but we don’t have to listen to you.'"

Lead photo by

A Great Capture

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