Proposed changes to Conservation Authorities Act are not sitting well in Guelph

Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks press secretary says legislation gives municipalities more say in decisions.

Proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act are not sitting well with Guelph’s MPP, its city council and its local conservation authority.

They have all joined a provincewide chorus of concern about the amendments currently making their way through the legislative process at Queen’s Park.

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They would allow for a process through which developers and others can go around conservation authorities to have permits approved by the province, directly.

Guelph MPP and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner has called on Premier Doug Ford to remove the amendments.

“The proposed amendments under Schedule 6 will remove the ability of conservation authorities to provide scientific data on the watersheds that cross municipal jurisdictions,” Schreiner said in an open letter to Ford.

“The role of conservation authorities is important to protect wetlands, including swamps, marshes and bogs, which are natural catch-basins that can quickly absorb much of the excess water dumped by increasingly fierce storms.”

Schreiner said he has heard from thousands of residents in Guelph and Ontario, elected municipal officials, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Caucus of Ontario Big City Mayors, and almost every conservation authority in the province.

“All of them have expressed their concerns and opposition to the amendments proposed in Schedule 6, Bill 229,” he said.

The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) has voiced its “deep concern” over the changes, echoing Schreiner and warning the changes will “significantly impact the role of the conservation authority board to establish and subsequently offer programs and services.”

Following an emergency meeting on Nov. 23, it sent a number of its own requests to the Ontario government.

“I would encourage watershed municipalities and residents to contact their local MPP and ask that the Province of Ontario work with conservation authorities to address our shared concerns before these changes are enacted,” said GRCA chair Helen Jowett.

The GRCA also noted that the province had not provided supporting regulations that could provide a better understanding of how the changes would be implemented.

Guelph city council has also asked the province to hold off on any changes to the act.

They unanimously passed a motion last month calling on the government to consult with conservation authorities and municipalities before making any decisions.

The motion was brought forward by Coun. Rodrigo Goller and Coun. Bob Bell, who both sit on the GRCA board.

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In his letter to the premier, Schreiner encouraged him to strengthen conservation authorities so they can provide better watershed data to help avoid more floods.

“The average cost to repair a basement is $43,000. Whereas the conservation authority only costs a resident in the Grand River watershed $2.81 per year,” he said. “This a bargain at a time when scientists warn flooding costs will triple over the next decade.”

Global News has reached out to the premier’s office and Minister of Environment’s office for comment.

— With files from 900 CHML’s Ken Mann

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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