Ontario conservation authorities group has too many developers, no local reps: mayor

Hamilton city councillors and the executive director of Environment Hamilton think recent changes by the province are eroding years of work to curb global warming and environmental issues.

Mayor says working group with developers is pathway to opening up Ontario's Greenbelt

Hamilton city councillors and the executive director of Environment Hamilton think recent changes by the province are eroding years of work to curb global warming and environmental issues. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Hamilton city councillors and the executive director of Environment Hamilton think recent changes by the province to conservation authorities will "decapitate"  them and erode years of work to curb global warming and other environmental issues.

The most recent issue raised was how no one from Hamilton or Niagara are included in a provincial working group made following controversial legislation that governs conservation authorities.

Conservation authorities oversee regional environmental and watershed protection.

The government described the new legislation as streamlining and modernizing the process for development approvals. Conservation authority officials variously described it as "worse than we ever would have anticipated" and "development at any cost." 

The provisions (contained in Schedule 6 of the budget bill) triggered the mass resignation of seven members of Ontario's Greenbelt Council, including its chair David Crombie.

The Ministry of the Environment said in a statement it would soon start consulting on regulatory proposals, including details of the mandatory programs and services conservation authorities would be required to provide, how to transition to a new funding model and how local members of the community can participate in their conservation authorities through community advisory boards.

Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson raised the issue of the working group at city council on Jan. 20. Others, including the mayor, say they will be sending a letter back to the province to express their concerns.

"I was particularly surprised to see so many development organizations listed as consultants or advisors on how we manage conservation authorities. It sounds a little oxymoronic to me," Mayor Fred Eisenberger said.

"I think back to the election period when the current premier threw out a suggestion he wanted to open up the greenbelt, and there was an enormous amount of pushback right across the province ... unfortunately, I think they've found another way based on the lobby they've received from development and, to me, sounds completely antithetical to what conservation authorities are about."

Councillors Lloyd Ferguson, Judi Partridge, John-Paul Danko and Brad Clark all also expressed condemnation, but Eisenberger also said he hopes there's space to push back.

The Ministry did not directly state why no one from Hamilton or Niagara is on the working group but said it includes "participants from conservation authorities across all regions of Ontario, and members representing the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and Conservation Ontario, which represents all 36 conservation authorities."

City councillors need to continue speaking up

Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, said it shows the province is weakening environmental protections.

"We don't have time to be messing around with this ridiculous sort of undoing of good policy changes that have been built up over multiple years," she said.

"They're setting us up to fail on something very serious ... do we need to be waving our hands around? What else do we need to do to help the government understand they can't be messing around with this?"

She praised city councillors speaking up about the working group and legislation, but said she wants them to continue to ring the alarm bells about other issues.

She highlighted recent changes to land needs assessment for urban growth management. Before, it was focused on increasing density, but now it will be driven by market demand, which could mean eating up more rural land in place of suburban homes.

"It's starting in Hamilton, but the municipalities are going to drop like dominoes ... and again this is as a result of this [provincial] government," Lukasik said.

"The next decade is critical where the climate crisis is concerned. How are all of these changes going to help Ontario communities if we're concerned about the climate emergency ... these changes do not help on that front."

She says all of these changes will cause "unforgivable" consequences including:

  • More extreme weather event with fewer watersheds to absorb the impact.
  • More extreme heat impacts for people living in areas with more pavement.
  • Less farm land and, as a result, less homegrown food.
  • Loss of animal life.

With files from Mike Crawley


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