The province claims that “Ontario needs more housing, and we need it now. That’s why the Ontario government is taking bold and transformative action to get 1.5 million homes built over the next 10 years.” This Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) posting is only one component of a large series of other interconnected ERO postings relating to Bill 23. Due to the short comment period at this busiest time of year for such a complex, vague, poorly considered, and destructive policy and legislative “streamlining”, it is impossible to fully understand the full scope or depth of resulting effects to provide any kind of meaningful input. It is crucial that all ERO postings are well planned, concisely written and defined in clear policy language so the public fully understands what is being proposed and its potential positive and negative effects.
The Ontario government, through Bill 23 and its multitude of complex and interconnected legislation and policy amendments, has:
- Removed municipal jurisdiction from upper-tier municipalities to make policy decisions on land use planning matters that are based on local community interests.
- Removed a significant financial source (permits/building fees) in which to help pay for water and wastewater services, sewers, transportation infrastructure, and community parks needed to service 1.5 million additional homes.
- Prohibited Conservation Authorities all across Ontario from providing practical advice to municipalities, their ability to issue permits, or provide input into environmental concerns.
- Failed to provide adequate public and Indigenous consultation relating to Bill 23 matters.
- Is proposing to streamline the qualifications program for Building Practitioners (ERO-019-6433).
The Ontario government’s own 2020 report, “Protecting People and Property: Ontario’s Flooding Strategy,” which resulted from the 2019 flooding disaster, states very clearly that “Flood risk management is achieved through multiple provincial acts, regulations, policies and technical guides and a wide range of provincial programs and services. Successful implementation relies on partnerships between provincial ministries, municipalities, Indigenous communities, conservation authorities, stakeholder organizations and the federal government.” 1
Instead, this proposal seeks to do the very opposite. It proposes to exempt the CAs from their authority under ten crucial Acts and their associated regulations; it blocks the CA partnership with municipalities and stakeholders and takes the authority of CAs away from permitting so they cannot properly fulfill the recommendations of this report that was commissioned by the Ontario government only a few short years ago. Now, where is the wisdom in that?
The ORA is concerned that Bill 23 will have far-reaching negative effects on the environment and communities. This major streamlining of development is irresponsible and a recipe for disaster. Bill 23 works against sustainability and the watershed approach at a time when Government decision-making should be focused on protecting the environment and building climate resilience into Ontario’s communities and infrastructure.
The ORA is very supportive of policy and legislation that provides an ecosystem approach for planning at a watershed and subwatershed scale. It is essential that we ensure a healthy environment, with clean and abundant freshwater resources, that helps to provide resilience to the extremes of climate change. We are appreciative of the information webinar on the Subwatershed Planning Guide, and the 45-day comment period.
Overall, we are generally supportive of the draft guidelines as they seem broad ranging and comprehensive. We are especially pleased to see the partnership approach with Indigenous peoples included in the Guide and agree that this approach will lead to a much more comprehensive subwatershed plan.
The ORA offers strong support for polluters being held accountable; however, that isn’t what’s happening here. Rather than strengthening enforcement tools that hold polluters accountable, this government is systematically and persistently dismantling, weakening or bypassing all environmental policy and legislation that was designed to protect the environment and deter those industries, corporations or individuals who would pollute and/or destroy the environment.
These ERO postings consistently mislead the public, especially in the top several paragraphs and titles, which contain misleading introductions to the proposed policy the government is proposing. In fact, you can always count on these “modernization” policy changes to be a further attack on environmental policy and legislation. It is even more despicable that these attacks have largely been carried out during the government’s declared COVID Emergency, where no public consultation is required, and what consultation that does take place is meaningless when the main objective is to cut red tape and remove any roadblocks to development and pollution, in spite of the public’s strong recommendations to protect the environment.
We, the 112 undersigned organizations, call on the Government of Ontario to retain the current mandate of the province’s 36 Conservation Authorities in protecting, restoring and managing the watersheds where 95 percent of Ontarians reside. Their functions and responsibilities with respect to land use planning and permitting, monitoring, stewardship and education must be maintained, for the reasons outlined below.
In closing, we urge the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to recognize the necessity of managing flood mitigation at a watershed scale and the importance of natural infrastructure. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to protecting our communities from flooding. This goal can be achieved by investing in our existing agencies (eg, conservation authorities) and by protecting and restoring our natural infrastructure (eg, wetlands and forests).
As a basic, the province must have a comprehensive approach to watershed management through flood mapping, mitigation and hazard planning and protection, including services such as wetland protection, climate change adaptation and resilience, biodiversity health and land use planning. In other words, we must be beefing up our public safety and environmental protection efforts, rather than gutting and streamlining key policy and legislation, as well as funding for our regulators.
We strongly encourage the Ministries to hold fulsome and meaningful public consultations, aimed at ensuring that the proposed budgetary, legislative, and any future regulatory changes meet the desired vision of improving Ontario’s resilience to climate change. Until such time as a full assessment of the proposed changes is complete, we call on the government to delay enacting Bill 108, Schedule 2.
This document does not go far enough to place CAs in a central role of watershed planning and management, or in working collaboratively with other municipalities and planning authorities. The CAs have a mandate to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, as well as the land and natural habitats; however, municipalities have no such mandate and are more development oriented. It is essential that municipalities are not just using this Watershed Planning Guidance purely for municipal land use planning or a stormwater management tool, but that CAs play a central role, and it is used as an integrated watershed planning and management framework.