An Opportunity for Landowners, Municipalities, and Conservation Authorities to Work Together by Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

Conservation Authorities and Conservation Ontario have been relentless in their criticism of the amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act outlined in Bill 229, Schedule 6.  Landowners, on the other hand, have eloquently and steadfastly supported the changes.

Bill 229, including Schedule 6, received Royal Assent and became law on December 8, 2020 but not before some changes to the amendments were made. The next step in the process is to develop regulations and to do this the Ontario government has announced a “Working Group to Better Focus Conservation Authorities”.  “Hassaan Basit, President and CEO of Conservation Halton will chair the new group which will provide input on the development of proposed regulations under the Conservation Authorities Act, and on how conservation authorities are governed. Ontario will also be seeking the public’s feedback on regulatory and governance proposals through the Environmental Registry. Public consultation on these proposals is also expected to begin early in the new year.”

Here is an opportunity for CAs to work with landowners and to recognize and use their generational knowledge of the land. Far too often, we see blanket designations of private property as wetlands or flood plains. The designations are done without consultation with the property owners and often with the attitude that people who own property don’t care about the environment and cannot be trusted to make good decisions about how it should be used. Once designated, it is up to the property owner to prove otherwise at their expense.

As EnPointe Public Affairs points out “Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America that features CAs as a conservation construct out of sixty-three sub-national jurisdictions in Canada and the United States. No other province or state has adopted or is in the process of adopting Ontario’s CA model.”

How is it that these other jurisdictions get along without the need for the “conservation construct” we use in Ontario? EnPointe goes on to say “Without objective measurements conducted by qualified investigators who regularly assess performance and results, CAs themselves cannot be deemed immune from reform or that reform can only emerge from the CAs themselves to be acceptable. This standard does not exist in any other sector of the Government of Ontario in respect of public interests. It is not for a subordinate public entity to dictate terms to the enabling authority if not empowered to do so in law. CAs are not.”

Surely there are other options where organizations work with landowners. Take, for example, Ducks Unlimited Canada, a nation-wide organization that has, since 1938 “completed more than 11,890 projects and conserved, restored and positively influenced more than 163.5 million acres of habitat.” and note that “Landowners are an essential part of the big picture solution”.

Please read about the landowner perspective on the Schedule 6 Amendments to the  Conservation Authorities Act on our website

As stated by OLA President Jeff Bogaerts in a letter to Minister Yurek, “the Ontario Landowners Association agrees with the direction your Ministry is taking. We look forward to working with you, your Ministry, and the Government of Ontario to find the balance between the Private Landowner, the environment, and the people of Ontario.”