Sudbury

Changes to Conservation Authorities Act could lead to fewer appeals, Ontario's Environment Minister says

Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff Yurek, is responding to concerns voiced by local conservation authorities over proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. 

Modifications to the act are contained in Bill 229, the province's budget bill

Some conservation authorities across the province say the changes proposed by the provincial government will greatly hinder their ability to protect the environment and watershed. (Steve Burgess)

Ontario's Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff Yurek, is responding to concerns voiced by local conservation authorities over proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. 

Some conservation authorities across the province say the changes proposed by the provincial government will greatly hinder their ability to protect the environment and watershed.

These are changes to the act, contained in Bill 229, the province's budget bill, introduced in November.

Among the proposed changes in Schedule 6, the bill opens up new appeal avenues allowing developers to bypass conservation authorities. It also removes citizens from their boards and mandates that they be comprised of elected officials. 

Appeals to be limited, ministry says

Appeals can currently be made to each of the 36 conservation authorities across the province.

The change would allow developers to skip them and go straight to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, and gives the ability to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to issue certain permits. 

In November, CBC Sudbury spoke with Carl Jorgensen, the general manager of Conservation Sudbury — one of 36 conservation authorities in the province — who confirmed ongoing discussions with the province about changes to the act. He said he did not expect the changes to be included within this bill.

[They] won't be able to step outside of the science, et cetera, that is needed in order to render that decision and it will be rarely used if at all.— Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks

Yurek said while changes have been made, appeals will be limited and the minister will still have to follow the same rules the Conservation Authority would.

"[They] won't be able to step outside of the science, et cetera, that is needed in order to render that decision and it will be rarely used if at all," Yurek said.

So, you might be thinking, why change the act then?

Yurke said the ministry conducted consultations across the province over a period of two years. 

'A mix of responses across the province'

"Part of the concern was, the appeal process doesn't work, isn't working throughout the province. [Local Planning Appeal Tribunal] LPAT is what's used in the planning system with municipalities so it will fit well with conservation authorities," he said. 

"I think we'll see fewer appeals going forward." 

On Monday, Sault Ste. Marie City Council passed a motion requesting that changes to the act be peeled back. 

Yurek said his office is listening to those who are concerned as the legislative process takes place. 

At the end of the day this bill is about improving accountability and transparency and consistency.— Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks

"We've had quite a mix of response across the province. We've got a number of municipalities that are supporting our legislation, we've got those asking us to make some changes. Right now the bill is at committee, we're hearing deputations from folks, the amendments process is comes up near the end of the week or early next week to make some changes."

"Probably some changes will be [made] to the bill after we hear from everybody," he said, "At the end of the day this bill is about improving accountability and transparency and consistency with our conservation authorities across the province," he said.

More stories from CBC Sudbury

With files from Morning North

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