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Ontario budget helps fund land protection, then erodes conservation authorities' ability to protect land

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/13/2020 8:35:00 AM

With one hand, the Doug Ford government giveth, and with the other, it taketh away. The Ontario government’s November 5, 2020 budget promises $20 million as a partial match to private contributions to the Greenlands Conservation Partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Ontario Land Trust Alliance.

The four-year investment is intended to support the purchase, restoration and management of new privately owned protected areas. The announcement earned quick praise from the Ontario Land Trust Alliance and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The government then introduced its budget Bill 229, the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020, which, among other things, will further constrain the role of conservation authorities in planning and permitting.

In a release, Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario, the non-profit association representing Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities, said: “One of our main goals . . .  has been to maintain the conservation authorities’ watershed-based approach to protecting people from natural hazards and ensuring the conservation of Ontario’s natural resources. Some of the changes will impact the [conservation authorities’] ability to do so.”

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) was also quick to respond in its own November 6, 2020 release: “Unexpectedly, the proposed amendments authorize the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to assume jurisdiction for certain permit applications in place of the conservation authority. Further, the amendments allow an applicant, within 30 days of a conservation authority issuing a permit with conditions, or refusing a permit, to request the Minister to review the conservation authority’s decision, and the Minister can make any decision including issuing a permit.”

Bill 229 will also repeal unproclaimed sections that would have allowed conservation authorities to issue stop work orders — an important power to deal with threats to environmentally sensitive areas, according to the TRCA.

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