Media Release: Alarming Amendments – Provincial Government Introduces Motions that Further Restrict Conservation Authorities

Media Release

Toronto — Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) recommends that all members of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs (SCFEA) vote against Schedule 6 today, during clause-by-clause deliberations.

Having reviewed the package of amendments tabled on December 3, CELA is releasing its analysis of the Government motions. If passed, these motions will further amend Schedule 6 of the omnibus budget measures Bill 229 (the proposed Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020).

As Bill 229 is being fast-tracked under time allocation, today is the only day that members of the SCFEA can vote against Schedule 6.

These latest amendments proposed by the Government fundamentally fail to address the concerns noted in CELA’s analysis to date.

“It’s unacceptable to introduce substantive and significant amendments that would further restrict conservation authorities’ responsibilities, with no opportunity for the public to review and respond,” said CELA’s Executive Director Theresa McClenaghan. “Not only is the public being denied their right to participate in environmental decision-making, the proposed amendments are contrary to the concerns raised by thousands of Ontario residents, all conservation authorities, numerous municipal councils and environmental organizations, as well as Conservation Ontario, Big City Mayors, Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and Ontario Federation of Agriculture.”

While CELA’s analysis of the motions discloses that some of the proposed amendments to Schedule 6 positively address concerns raised by CELA, Conservation Ontario and many others, there are also significant never-seen-before amendments that cause great concern.  

If passed, these amendments would entrench and legitimize a tool known as Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) under the Planning Act.  This would have the potential to sideline conservation authorities’ science and evidence-based assessments and permitting responsibilities on issues like flood protection and natural heritage preservation.

For example, in the event that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues a MZO and a conservation authority’s review demonstrates the need to protect a wetland for flood prevention, the MZO could nevertheless override the conservation authority’s jurisdiction to refuse permission. Under the newly introduced provisions, the conservation authority would be required to issue the permission, even if it will not meet the requirements of a section 28 regulation and/or be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement. 

The only option for the conservation authority in this situation would be to impose conditions related to a limited set of factors, including those outlined as the “core mandate” — flood mitigation, natural hazards, pollution, and conservation lands.

Even these limited potential protections could be reversed, as the applicant could ask for a review by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and/or appeal the conservation authority’s conditions to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

“These proposed changes will not restore the essential role of conservation authorities in protecting vanishing wetlands, forests, ecosystems, which are crucially important to environmental and human health,” said CELA’s Special Projects Counsel Anastasia Lintner. “As a result, CELA strongly recommends that the Members of SCFEA vote against Schedule 6.”

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Media contact:
Anastasia Lintner, Special Projects Counsel, Healthy Great Lakes
Tel: 647-705-7564