Sudbury watershed agency raises red flag over Conservation Authorities Act changes

Conservation Authorities in the province are reacting to proposed legislative changes that will affect the scope of their mandate, and authority.

Province says changes improve governance, oversight and accountability, while giving municipalities more say

Carl Jorgensen is the general manager of Sudbury Conservation, also know as the Nickel District Conservation Authority. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Conservation Authorities in the province are reacting to proposed legislative changes that will affect the scope of their mandate, and authority.

These are changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, contained in Bill 229, the province's budget bill, introduced earlier this month. The bill is currently being debated in its second reading.

The general manager of Conservation Sudbury — one of 36 conservation authorities in the province — says there have been ongoing discussions with the province about changes to the act. But Carl Jorgensen says he did not expect the changes to be included within this bill.

"Let the budget go through. And it's a really, really important document for Ontario at this time," he said.

"The stuff that's in Schedule 6 for conservation authorities, that can come at a later date and we can get back on track where we were before, we can continue to work and create a really good conservation authorities act."

The changes would see new avenues for appealing decisions by conservation authorities, and would change the composition of boards of directors. Jorgensen says the changes will remove some checks and balances — as well as the conservation authorities' ability to issue stop-work orders. 

"Someone could literally put a drawing on the back of a napkin and come up to the conservation authority office, submit it, and say that's my application. And 120 days go by and they appeal it to the minister," Jorgensen said.

"That's at the extreme, and I don't think it would ever happen. But it just, adding this extra time, this extra layer of red tape, and additional costs.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks says the changes will improve governance, oversight and accountability, while also giving municipalities more say.

Meanwhile the Canadian Environmental Law Association says the proposed changes "will not achieve the crucially important goal of building climate resilience for Ontario."

The association notes "the package of amendments, as proposed, are likely to set back watershed planning and implementation of an ecosystem based approach by decades."

The association recommends the province "immediately seek to ensure that the current mandate of the province's 36 conservation authorities is maintained and enhanced, in order to effectively protect, restore and manage the watersheds, where 95 percent of the people of Ontario reside."

Jorgensen says there is currently a "very good process that works," noting that conservation authorities issue thousands of permits a year — and less than half a per cent of those are appealed.

Listen to the interview with Jorgensen and Morning North CBC host Markus Schwabe.

Tucked into the Ontario budget bill, are proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. Conservation Sudbury is one of 36 conservation authorities in the province. General manager Carl Jorgensen joined us to discuss changes to the act, and what has him worried. 8:57


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