Take Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot: Ford Government Taking Away the Science of Conservation Authorities.

The rural neighbours complained about the property. Fill from a road project was filling up parts of the owner’s property. It caused water problems for the neighbour’s land. A bulldozer was destroying a wetland that drained into a tributary of Cedar Creek and then onto the Grand River. https://www.exchangemagazine.com/morningpost/2011/week40/Monday/100304.htm

In one of the few cases prosecuted by the GRCA, the owner was fined $10,000 and made to clean up the fill. This was a long and drawn out case. The owner hired a lawyer associated with a group who feel they can do what ever they want on the land they own. This is a similar philosophy to the anti-maskers.

A few years ago, a GRCA staffer did a study for an advanced degree. She looked at flood damage in a similar river system in the United States that did not have the Ontario rules and regulations that restrict building on flood plains and inside flood lines. The GRCA looks after flooding along the Grand and its tributaries. People complain about the restrictions, saying in this time of climate change, “It has never flooded here.” The study found that the system that allowed building suffered millions of dollars of damage, GRCA lands had very few problems. Some floods on the Grand do cause damage, but this is mostly to properties that were already in flood prone areas before Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s. The flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel is the bar for flood control in Ontario.

Conservative governments in Ontario don’t seem to like conservation authorities, which is odd since the original GRCA was founded by business owners disgusted with the state of the river. In the mid 1990s, conservation authorities were mostly funded by the province. The conservative Harris government took that money away and many GRCA staffers were laid off. The GRCA turned to the municipalities with a levy that funds the dams and flood control. Permit fees cover the work of dealing with building and property concerns. The GRCA works with property owners, developers and municipalities, using science, to keep our watershed and ground water safe and available and to prevent flood and drought damage.

While the present conservative Ford government has made a few good last minute changes to schedule 6 of bill 229, thank you, there are still some pressing problems with it. The association of large municipalities and many others have asked that schedule 6 be removed from a bill dealing with COVID relief. David Crombie, a Conservative and former federal cabinet minister, resigned as the Chair of the Greenbelt Council in protest over any changes to the present Conservation Authorities Act. He says schedule 6 will cut environmental protections in the province.

Schedule 6 will strip powers from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues. A conservation authority must now allow a development if the province issues a minister’s zoning order. The minister’s zoning order will bypass public input and force a zoning change. The conservation authority must allow the development but can include conditions. These conditions can be appealed by the permission holder. The conservation authority and the permission holder must enter into an agreement for requirements that the holder must complete to compensate for ecological impacts. This would mean that the owner dumping fill from a provincial road project on his property would just pay money to continue if the minister felt what he was doing was fine, despite the objections of the GRCA.

Apparently this change is due to the objections of the Toronto Conservation Authority to a development project that would destroy an important wetland. In a pro-development government with a minister who has been openly hostile to conservation authorities, this is a disaster.

The good news if this change goes forward, is that in a democracy, governments and government ministers inevitably change. It always amazes me how the government of the day seems to think they will always be in power. Imagine a future where the minister’s zoning order is controlled by a member of the Green Party.

However, this is a power that is not necessary. Conservation Authorities and municipalities are at the forefront of scientific environmental protection. Schedule 6 should be abandoned.

For more information on the Grand River Conservation Authority, the Region of Waterloo and environmental protection, read my paper presented to the International Making Cities Liveable Conference here: https://wordpress.com/post/janemitchell.blog/1943

A good summary of this situation is outlined in an article by Leah Gerber in The Record on Fri. Dec 4. https://www.therecord.com/news/waterloo-region/2020/12/04/province-reveals-last-minute-changes-to-the-conservation-authorities-act.html

Sadly, Schedule 6 has been passed and our wetlands and sensitive environmental areas are at risk.

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