Posted on Tuesday November 24, 2020
On Monday, November 23, 2020, the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) General Membership held a special board meeting to review and discuss the Province’s proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act through Schedule 6 in Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures).
Conservation Authorities Act
The Schedule amends the Conservation Authorities Act. The more significant amendments are described below.
Section 14 of the Act is amended to ensure that the members of a conservation authority that are appointed by participating municipalities are municipal councillors. The Minister is given the authority to appoint an additional member to a conservation authority to represent the agricultural sector.
The objects of a conservation authority described in section 20 of the Act are limited to the provision of programs and services required or permitted under sections 21.1, 21.1.1 and 21.1.2. Section 21.1 requires an authority to provide mandatory programs and services that are prescribed by regulation and meet the requirements set out in that section. Section 21.1.1 allows authorities to enter into agreements with participating municipalities to provide programs and services on behalf of the municipalities, subject to the regulations. Section 21.1.2 would allow authorities to provide such other programs and services as it determines are advisable to further the purposes of the Act, subject to the regulations. An authority is required to enter into agreements with the participating municipalities in its jurisdiction if any municipal funding is needed to recover costs for the programs or services provided under section 21.1.2. A transition plan shall be developed by an authority to prepare for entering into agreements relating to the recovery of costs. All programs and services must be provided in accordance with any prescribed standards and requirements.
Section 21.2 of the Act allows a person who is charged a fee for a program or services provided by an authority to apply to the authority to reconsider the fee. Section 21.2 is amended to require the authority make a decision upon reconsideration of a fee within 30 days. Further, the amendments allow a person to appeal the decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal or to bring the matter directly to the Tribunal if the authority fails to render a decision within 30 days.
New sections 23.2 and 23.3 of the Act would allow the Minister to take certain actions after reviewing a report on an investigation into an authority’s operations. The Minister may order the authority to do anything to prevent or remedy non-compliance with the Act. The Minister may also recommend that the Lieutenant Governor in Council appoint an administrator to take over the control and operations of the authority.
Subsection 28.1 (8) of the Act currently allows a person who applied to a conservation authority for a permit under subsection 28.1 (1) to appeal that decision to the Minister if the authority has refused the permit or issued it subject to conditions. Subsection 28.1 (8) is repealed and replaced with provisions that allow the applicant to choose to seek a review of the authority’s decision by the Minister or, if the Minister does not conduct such a review, to appeal the decision to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal within 90 days after the decision is made. Furthermore, if the authority fails to make a decision with respect to an application within 120 days after the application is submitted, the applicant may appeal the application directly to the Tribunal.
New section 28.1.1 of the Act allows the Minister to order a conservation authority not to issue a permit to engage in an activity that, without the permit, would be prohibited under section 28 of the Act. After making such an order the Minister may issue the permit instead of the conservation authority.
Section 28.3 of the Act is amended to allow a decision of a conservation authority to cancel a permit or to make another decision under subsection 28.3 (5) to be appealed by the permit holder to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Subsection 30.2 of the Act sets out circumstances in which an officer may enter land within the area of jurisdictions of an authority. Those circumstances are revised by section 19 of the Schedule.
Section 30.4 of the Act is repealed. That section, which has not yet been proclaimed and which would have given officers the power to issue stop orders to persons carrying on activities that could contravene or are contravening the Act, is repealed.
The regulation making authority in section 40 is re-enacted to reflect amendments in the Schedule.
While the GRCA board expressed support for the Province’s stated objectives to modernize the Conservation Authorities Act, and enhance transparency and accountability, the board also voiced deep concern that some of the proposed changes may have a considerable impact on conservation authorities, their watershed management responsibilities, and consequently, on the health and wellness of the Grand River watershed and its residents.
If enacted, a number of these changes will significantly impact the role of the conservation authority board to establish and subsequently offer programs and services. As well, the proposed amendments will enable regulations that would either limit or completely change the role of conservation authorities in protecting Ontario’s environment and ensuring people and property are safe from natural hazards like flooding.
At the meeting, board members passed a motion requesting staff to send GRCA Report GM-11-20-85 Proposed Amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act through Bill 229 to the Premier of Ontario, the Ministers of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Natural Resources and Forestry, Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Finance, as well as all watershed MPPs, watershed municipalities, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association. The report outlines the proposed changes in five key areas of concern for the GRCA: Objects, Powers and Duties; Regulatory; Enforcement; Governance and Other.
“In the Grand River watershed, the GRCA plays a critical role in protecting our environment and natural heritage, mitigating the impacts of flooding and other natural hazards, ensuring safe drinking water and supporting municipal partners with Planning Act applications,” says GRCA Chair Helen Jowett. “This legislation introduces a number of changes that could remove or significantly limit the GRCA’s ability to manage watershed natural resources and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards. I would encourage watershed municipalities and residents to contact their local MPP and ask that the Province of Ontario work with conservation authorities to address our shared concerns before these changes are enacted.”
Summary of GRCA response to proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act
The GRCA requests that:
- the clause in Section 21.1.2 of the Bill be edited to remove the ability for the Minister to prescribe standards and requirements for non-mandatory, municipal and local programs and services;
- the amendment to the Planning Actbe removed from Schedule 6 of Bill 229;
- Bill 229 Schedule 6 clauses in S.28 be amended by removing references to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and replacing it with the Mining and Lands Tribunal;
- the existing un-proclaimed clauses in the Conservation Authorities Act 2019 related to Powers of entry (30.2) and Stop Order (30.4) remain in the Conservation Authorities Act and proposed amendments related to these clauses be removed from Bill 229 Schedule 6;
- the wording for fiduciary responsibilities in the CA Act be amended back to: “Every member of an authority shall act honestly and in good faith with a view to furthering the objects of the authority”; and that
- a future regulation regarding the transition plan have an implementation date that is 18-24 months after the regulation is approved.
Most of the amendments proposed would be implemented through new or amended regulations, legal instruments or policies. At this time, the Province has not yet provided the supporting regulations and policies that will provide a more complete understanding of how the changes are to be implemented and the full impact, both locally on the GRCA, and more broadly on all conservation authorities across the province. It is anticipated that the first phase of regulations are set to come out in the coming weeks.
“The GRCA will offer its assistance and technical expertise to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry on any working groups or technical committees established to review future changes to the regulations, policies or provincial standards related to the implementation of the Conservation Authorities Act,” continues Chair Jowett.
Further details on the changes to the CA Act as well as Ontario’s 2020 Budget are posted on the Province’s website. Further information regarding the impact of these changes on conservation authorities and their ability to conserve and restore Ontario’s important natural resources is available on Conservation Ontario’s website, along with the contact information of provincial elected officials.
The proposed changes, if enacted:
- remove and/or significantly hinder the GRCA’s role in regulating development, the permit and planning application appeal process and engaging in review and appeal of municipal planning applications. This change would also limit the GRCA’s ability as a landowner to appeal planning decisions. The GRCA owns approximately 50,000 acres of land throughout the watershed to support flood hazard management, maintain a reliable water supply, protect natural areas and biodiversity, and manage other environmentally sensitive natural lands.
- allow the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to make decisions on permit appeals and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from the conservation authorities.
- remove stop work orders as an important compliance tool for illegal activities in natural hazard areas such as floodplains.
- redirect the fiduciary role (Duty of Members) for municipally appointed CA Board members, who would make decisions in the best interest of the municipalities and not the GRCA.
Also included is the proposed amendment that a conservation authority will be required to enter into agreements with participating municipalities if any municipal funding is needed to recover costs for programs and/or services considered non-mandatory.