The Ford government is putting environment and property at risk, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition says.
Lake Simcoe, Ontario – Last week the province of Ontario snuck changes to Conservation Authorities’ (CAs) powers into their budget bill, which could be passed without consultation as early as next week. The proposed changes are widely regarded by the environmental community as a vindictive stab at the environment and CAs led by the Premier’s Office. Critics argue that these changes will undermine the effectiveness of CAs. Additionally these changes will add costs and “red tape” for both the CAs and those seeking development permits in lands now regulated by CAs.
The proposed changes include:
- Creating a mechanism for the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to use his/her “opinion” to override the science-based decisions of Conservation Authorities regarding the protection of wetlands, woodlands, endangered species habitats and flood protection;
- Forcing Conservation Authority Board members to “generally act on behalf of their respective municipalities” instead of the goals and objectives of the Conservation Authority and the watershed health it was entrusted to protect; and
- Tangle up permitting processes while providing appeal rights for developers, and adding red tape and costs for all involved.
Conservation Authorities have professionally trained staff, including ecologists and hydrologists, who are best qualified to understand the impacts of development on key environmental features. By taking over control to authorize or deny development permits, the Ontario government will help the development industry continue to destroy key forests, wetlands, and recreational areas across the province. This will allow, for example, the province to ensure the destruction of the coastal wetland in Lower Duffins Creek to proceed despite the objection of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the Town of Ajax and thousands of citizens’ objections.
The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s Executive Director, Claire Malcolmson, was invited to participate in the province’s public consultation on Conservation Authorities, and did not hear an overwhelming call for the radical changes advanced by the Province. The Province has not released details on how they made the CA Act change proposal in relation to the comments received in their public consultation process. This is where an independent Environmental Commissioner of Ontario would have been helpful, but eliminating the independence of that position was one of the first attacks on the environment completed by this provincial administration.
“Despite promises in the Made in Ontario Environment Plan, these changes will have negative effects on water quality, natural area protection, and will make us more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including heavy rain and flooding events. The proposed changes put downstream homeowners at greater risk of flooding, as the permitting and oversight powers of CA’s in the planning process have been gutted,” says Malcolmson.
The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) has developed leading-edge policies and programs that help to minimize the significant impacts of development on water quality, which were enabled by the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, but not acted on by the Province. Developers are for the most part doing their part to participate and are thereby reducing harm to Lake Simcoe as compared to a pre-Lake Simcoe Protection Plan scenario. The LSRCA has also developed an exceptional Natural Heritage and Restoration Strategy, a key tool in achieving the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s natural heritage protection targets. If the LSRCA is changed in the ways proposed by the Province, no regulator will be taking care of Lake Simcoe.
Courtesty of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, a lake-wide member-based organization, representing 26 member groups in the watershed, that provides leadership and inspires people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org
Photo by Tony Bellissimo