Government of Ontario Amends the Conservation Authorities Act

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Amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act | What Do the Changes Mean? | TRCA’s Comments | About the Conservation Authorities Act


Amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act

On May 2, 2019, the Province introduced Bill 108, entitled the More Homes, More Choice Act, as part of its Housing Supply Action Plan. Schedule 2 of this omnibus bill contained proposed revised wording for the amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act.

On June 6, 2019, Bill 108 passed Third Reading and received Royal Assent. A final version of the More Homes, More Choice Act can be found HERE.

Next Steps: Enacting Regulations

While Bill 108 is now law, its “provisions” (meaning its stipulations) will come into effect at various times. This includes the amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act.

Some provisions came into force when the Bill received Royal Assent, while others will come into force on a day to be proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor (through Cabinet) or by the Minister through regulation(s). (See the grey shaded portions of the Act HERE, which need to be proclaimed to be enacted.)

The key legislative amendments (not yet enacted) for conservation authorities can be found in section 21.1 (1) of the amended Conservation Authorities Act. They require conservation authorities to provide programs or services that meet the following descriptions and that have been prescribed in regulations:

  1. Programs and services related to the risk of natural hazards
  2. Programs and services related to the conservation and management of lands owned or controlled by the authority, including any interests in land registered on title
  3. Programs and services related to the authority’s duties, functions and responsibilities as a source protection authority under the Clean Water Act, 2006
  4. Programs and services related to the authority’s duties, functions and responsibilities under an Act prescribed by the regulations

This same section also enables conservation authorities to provide a program or service other than those listed above, but it must first be prescribed in a provincial regulation.

Thus far, the Province has not indicated definite timelines for the new regulations or enactment of the new provisions.

What Do These Changes to the Conservation Authorities Act Mean?

The changes are primarily focused on clearly defining the core mandatory programs and services provided by conservation authorities, in addition to a number of other administrative and governance amendments.

Significant advocacy efforts by Conservation Ontario and conservation authorities (CAs), including Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), were put into highlighting the critical role that CAs play as watershed and natural resource management agencies and the need for the addition of “conserving natural resources” as a core mandatory program.

Although this wording was not chosen, a partial “win” was achieved with the Province’s late inclusion of the last category of mandatory programs and services, allowing for any programs or services not otherwise covered in clauses (i) to (iv) in section 21.1(1) to be potentially included in a regulation.

Background + TRCA’s Comments Prior to Passing of Bill 108

On April 5, 2019, the Government of Ontario had proposed updates to the Conservation Authorities Act and associated regulations.

The proposed amendments were described and posted online on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) for the public to provide comment:

  • Modernizing Conservation Authority Operations – Conservation Authorities Act
    ERO #013-5018
    (Comment period now closed)
  • Focusing Conservation Authority Development Permits on the Protection of People and Property
    ERO #013-4992
    (Comment period now closed)

TRCA reviewed the proposed amendments and consulted with its municipal partners, Conservation Ontario and other stakeholders to consider the implications of what was proposed. TRCA submitted comments to the Province through the ERO:

On May 2, 2019, the Province introduced Bill 108, entitled the More Homes, More Choice Act, as part of its Housing Supply Action Plan. Schedule 2 of this omnibus bill contained proposed revised wording of the amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act.

As such, TRCA provided additional comments by separate letter, which can be viewed here:

What is the Conservation Authorities Act?

The Conservation Authorities Act is a made-in-Ontario solution for managing renewable natural resources and protecting people and property through a prevention-first approach that is built around the management of watersheds.

The purpose of the Conservation Authorities Act is:

“to provide for the organization and delivery of programs and services that further the conservation, restoration, development and management of natural resources in watersheds in Ontario.”

The Act authorizes the formation of conservation authorities in Ontario and addresses their roles, responsibilities and governance in resource management and environmental protection.

Introduced by the Ontario Provincial Legislature in 1946 in response to concerns about the state of renewable natural resources in the province affected by poor land, water, and forestry practices at the time, the Act allows municipalities in a common watershed to petition the province to establish a conservation authority.

The “objects” of a conservation authority and the powers it has to achieve these objectives are all set out in the Act.

What Are Conservation Authority Development Permit Regulations and Why Are They Important?

Section 28 of the Conservation Authorities Act sets out prohibited activities that include development in areas that could be unsafe for development because of natural processes associated with flooding or erosion, and interference with, or alterations to, watercourses, wetlands or shorelines.

Currently, each of Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities has its own section 28 regulation, which is consistent with the provisions in the current Act and the Province’s “content regulation” for conservation authorities, Ontario Regulation 97/04. TRCA’s section 28 regulation is Ontario 166/06.

Many municipal governments rely on their local conservation authority to help communities understand, look after and enjoy the natural environment and to increase residents’ and businesses’ awareness of flood and erosion hazards that can threaten people, property and infrastructure.

The provincial government has indicated that losses from flooding and other natural hazards in Ontario are lower than in other jurisdictions, due largely to the planning and regulatory approaches delivered by conservation authorities.