Conservation authorities are governed by the Conservation Authorities Act which is administered by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is responsible for conservation authorities’ activities related to natural hazard management.
The Conservation Authorities Act was originally enacted in 1946, as conservation authorities began to be established, and has undergone amendments since this time. This year, 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the Act.
2021 Regulatory Proposals Consultation
Following the enactment of Bill 229 last year, a Working Group was established by the Province in January 2021 and their first task included looking at the first phase of proposed regulations that impact conservation authorities and their participating municipalities.
The Group’s membership consists of representatives from conservation authorities, Conservation Ontario, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario as well as the development and agricultural sectors. Hassaan Basit, President and Chief Executive Officer of Conservation Halton was the Chair of the Working Group.
The Province is conducting a two-phase consultation process on the proposed regulations to support the Conservation Authorities Act. For Phase 1, the Province has released a Guide:
Regulatory Proposal Consultation Guide: Regulations Defining Core Mandate and Improving Governance, Oversight and Accountability of Conservation Authorities (released May 13, 2021)
What is the Province consulting about in Phase 1?
Current: The Province has just released a Regulatory Proposal Guide which they are using to consult with stakeholders and the public on the first phase of a series of the proposed regulations. The Province is consulting on the following:
- details on the programs and services conservation authorities will implement and how the programs and services may be funded, such as the:
- mandatory programs and services conservation authorities will deliver
- proposed agreements with participating municipalities that may be required to fund non-mandatory programs and services with municipal dollars, and the transition period to establish those agreements
- the requirement for conservation authorities to establish community advisory boards
- a Minister’s regulation under section 29 of the Conservation Authorities Act that consolidates individual CA regulations regarding the public’s use of authority-owned land including, prohibited activities and activities requiring permits on conservation authority owned lands
Later in the year, the Province will consult on the second phase of the proposed regulations including:
a. details on municipal levies related to mandatory and non-mandatory programs and services
b. standards for the delivery of non-mandatory programs and services
Highlights from Conservation Ontario’s Recommendations
Conservation Ontario’s comments on the provincial regulatory proposals for the Conservation Authorities Act (CAA) highlight the work that we and conservation authorities will do in order to implement the changes to the CAA as well as flag a number of limitations, including ever shortening timelines, costs and capacity that challenge this implementation.
Conservation Authorities play a key role in protecting Ontario’s watersheds. Conservation Ontario is focused on ensuring the new regulations allow conservation authorities to continue to have the tools to protect people, property and the environment.
- Conservation authorities need a speedy completion of both phase one and phase two of the consultation process in order to meet the tight timelines for delivering on Transition Plans to implement the Province’s proposed changes, including reaching agreement with member municipalities for non-mandatory programs and services. Many of the proposed changes require substantial work to implement and have new reporting requirements.
- The core watershed-based resource management strategy being recommended by the Province is a good step in the right direction.
Conservation Ontario has been asking for the Province to recognize the value of a watershed-based approach throughout the review of the Conservation Authorities Act.
The strategies can provide a framework for conservation authorities and their member municipalities to identify the programs and services needed in each watershed to protect people and property from natural hazards and conserve natural resources.
As well, it can help us to categorize the mandatory and non-mandatory programs and services for consultation with municipalities.
- Passive recreation opportunities should be classified as mandatory programs and services in order to continue to allow public access to these lands through hiking trails and to waterways via boat launches.
Conservation areas are well used and valued by Ontarians however there is little revenue generation opportunities in most of the almost 300 conservation areas that have only or primarily passive recreation lands. Some of the conservation areas could close to the public otherwise.
Conservation Ontario is also recommending the establishment of a working group pulling together CA, municipal and provincial enforcement staff so that all parties and levels of government have the tools they need to ensure the orderly use of their properties (e.g. parking violations) and to protect peoples’ safety and security.
- Nature-based solutions such as private land stewardship protects and restores the watershed’s green infrastructure (e.g. forests, wetlands, riparian buffers) which helps to reduce and mitigate the risk of flooding and erosion and should be designated as mandatory programs and services under Natural Hazards.
Science supports the value of forests, wetlands and riparian buffers for the prevention and mitigation of flood and erosion hazards.
Private land stewardship programs and activities such as tree-planting and soil erosion control maintain and put in place these important green infrastructure assets.
Consequently they should be included in the mandatory programs and services related to the risk of Natural Hazards in order to effectively continue to protect people and property from flooding and erosion.
- The mandatory Community Advisory Boards being proposed by the Province need to be flexible and not duplicate the work of the Conservation Authority Boards.
Conservation authorities rely upon and support engagement of the public, Indigenous communities and other stakeholders in their watershed management work. They have long embraced the concept of advisory boards/committees and numerous CAs already have them in place.
It is requested that the regulation not restrict or complicate the ability to convert existing Advisory Boards or Committees to meet the minimum requirements of Community Advisory Boards and/or to demonstrate that a CA has an equivalent and effective means of seeking public input (i.e., the advice of their watershed community).
Enabling conservation authorities to scope the terms of reference and flexibility in timing of implementation will ensure local relevance, effectiveness and affordability of any Community Advisory Board.
Conservation Ontario also requests that Indigenous representatives be exempt from the requirement that members reside in the authority’s jurisdiction as Indigenous communities with an interest in a conservation authority’s watershed may have representatives who live outside the jurisdiction.
Conservation Ontario’s full submission will be available after Council review on June 21, 2021.
How do I submit comments?
Comments on the regulatory proposals may be submitted by June 27, 2021 through either the Environmental Registry of Ontario or can be emailed directly to the ministry at email@example.com. The comments received from the posting will be considered by the ministry when developing the proposed regulations.
Review of the Conservation Authorities Act 2019-2021
In 2019 the Province passed Bill 108 More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019 which amended the Conservation Authorities Act and identified a new category list of mandatory programs and services for conservation authorities.
The mandatory programs and services determined by the Province at this time include:
- Natural hazards management
- Conservation and Management of Conservation Authority-owned Lands
- Drinking Water Source Protection
- Lake Simcoe Protection Act
- Other programs and services prescribed by regulation within a year of the end of the transition period (e.g. provincial water quality and quantity monitoring)
Beginning in late 2019, the ministry undertook consultations with municipalities, the public, landowners, development, agricultural, environmental and conservation organizations as well as conservation authorities, about the core role of conservation authorities. The ministry also conducted an online survey at the same time.
In November, the Province introduced changes to the CA Act through Schedule 6 Bill 229: Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures) 2020. It was passed on December 8, 2020.