General News

Concerns grow among Conservation Authorities over Bill 23

November 25, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

The provincial government’s proposed Bill 23, known as the More Homes Built Faster Act, which plans to build 1.5 million new homes in Ontario, is causing a lot of concern among Conservation Authorities across the province.

The Nottawasaga Conservation Authority has already released a statement voicing their concerns over Bill 23, now other Conservation Authorities are issuing statements saying the legislation will limit the way they can work with municipal partners to plan safe developments while maintaining the benefits of nature in the province’s communities.

While Conservation Authorities agree that housing needs have to be met, they say that the proposed changes will limit their ability to function within the Conservation Authorities Act and the Planning Act.

The changes, they say, will prohibit a municipality’s choice to request that Conservation Authorities comment on conservation and environmental matters in the development review process.

Conservation Authorities provide input on ecology, natural heritage, wetlands, and biodiversity in the review of development proposals, and they say it’s vital that they retain those responsibilities, where requested, by municipalities.

The legislation also proposes the removal of the “pollution” and “conservation of land” tests, which are two of the five tests that are considered by conservation authorities in their review and decision-making on permit applications. These tests allow conservation authorities to ensure that the natural systems, such as wetlands, are not adversely impacted by development and site alteration to an extent that they are not able to perform their natural hazard roles over the long term.

The proposed changes allow the Minister to freeze conservation authority user fees. Those fees are used to recover program and service costs. Conservation Authorities do not exceed the cost of delivering the services and have been developed based on the recommendations of external third-party professionals.

If the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks were to freeze these permit development fees, it would create additional financial pressures requiring conservation authorities to make up the difference through the municipal levy.

The proposed changes would enable the Ministry to exempt certain types of Planning Act applications from requiring a Conservation Authority permit. Conservation Authorities say the intent of this proposed provision remains unclear. However, they maintain it may undermine their ability to effectively deliver an important provincially mandated function in the planning and permitting of development.

Probably the biggest concern is that proposed changes would make conservation lands available to support housing development.

Conservation Authority lands are there to protect against flooding and erosion and provide residents access to local green spaces. Protecting nature like forests and wetlands builds local resilience to climate change by capturing carbon and holding water.

They also provide important ecosystem services such as cleaning the air and water.

Conservation Authorities are encouraging the Province to engage in further dialogue and receive more input before finalizing legislation.

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