The Docket – Conservation Authorities Are Not Roses by Jeff D. Bogaerts

Published January 1, 2019

Shakespeare wrote in the play, Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. For those who did not read Shakespeare, this simply means that no matter what you call a rose, the name will not change the wonderful smell that a rose is known by.

For me, when smelling a rose it brings back memories as a child, picking raspberries in my Grandparent’s big backyard garden. Fresh cream on a bowl of raspberries fresh off the vine is a taste treat never to be forgotten.

So, what does Shakespeare have to do with my article? An interesting question.

Conservation Authorities were first discussed in the Ontario Legislature in 1932 and the first Conservation Authority Act passed in 1946. The mandate was to protect property from flooding, keep the waterways clear of debris and rubbish, create dams and storm management ponds to control water flow in the Spring runoff and heavy summer rains.

Today, you cannot get a building permit without the blessing of your local CA. Of course, there is a fee to pay for the inspection and additional fees for engineering and/or environmental studies. This has increased the time to get a building permit from a few weeks to, in one case I know of, two years.

Who, what, when, where, why, are the standard questions to be asked when problems arise and answers are being sought.

In Ontario, 13% of the land mass is in the hands of Private Landowners. The CAs own 146,000 hectares of land or 360,774 acres or 1,460 square km or 564 square miles. They also own 400 conservation areas for public use, 8,400 campsites and 2,500 km or 1,553 miles of trails. The numbers are going up not down. Why do they need to own anything when we have Provincial Parks? It seems to be a competing organization reporting to the same Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

For some, you can begin to see the play here. For those of you who do not yet see what is happening I shall continue. There are 36 CAs in Ontario. If you look at a map of the CAs there are 5 in N. Ontario all located in a denser urban setting and 31 in S. Ontario.

When discussing land values, the highest land values are in S Ont. and the most expensive in the GTA and around the golden horseshoe. The greatest amount of construction is occurring in S Ont. Massive sub-divisions and mega-mall construction on once good farmland. More property tax dollars going into tax and spend municipalities as fast as houses and malls are built.

What is the alternative, stop building, slow building down? Where will the out of work construction and service people get jobs? How will tax and spend municipalities replace lost property tax revenue? The questions continue. Build bigger homes on smaller lots for greater living density and use the excuse of less grass to cut to save the environment. Sounds good. How about more municipal planners to control properties for future construction? Sustainable growth or what is really controlled growth until there is no more land to build on.

How do you control land for future growth without having to buy the land? Another good question. How about zoning every square inch of land with whatever restrictions a municipality wants to assign and then get the CAs to add more zoning such as wetlands, hazardous lands, environmentally protected or the best one of all, Provincially Significant Wetlands. The PSW will really control massive amounts of land.

This is where the conspiracy theorists will start the no, no, no, you are all wrong, this is being done to protect the environment, the watershed, all the wildlife, trees, shrubs and grasses. I suppose it sounds like a good story. However, I have never met a Private Land Owner that was not already doing that. If anything, the PLO is doing whatever they can to raise the value of their property by looking after the land and improving it, if they are allowed.

How would you describe the following? PLO owns 50 acres and wants to build a barn, plant hazelnut trees or build a sand ring for horses. The local CA says you need permits and environmental studies that could cost upwards of $50k or more and 1 to 2 years to complete with no guarantee that the plans and studies will be accepted by the CA and issue an Ok to build.

The same 50 acres bought by a construction company to build 500 homes and a fake park that looks pretty in name only. How fast would the permits be issued? How fast will the property designation change and tax revenue start pouring in? As a side note. Every municipality that is in the CA watershed jurisdiction, has a council member on the CA board of directors.

Why do my property taxes not go down when my land is CA designated wetland or PSW and I cannot use the land? Another good question. You have been mandated to help the environment and that is for the public good. I still have not received an answer as to who is the public, what good they are getting and why they are not helping to pay the property taxes of the owner who got hit with designations.

What happens if you disregard the CA authority and go forward without a permit? Wow these good questions just keep on coming. You have the privilege of paying a $50k fine and/or 3 months in jail, plus an additional fine if you received a financial benefit from whatever you did and the opportunity to put everything back in place as it was before you started, at your cost of course. I forgot to mention the daily $10k fine for every day the offence continues. Guess what the fines are for a business? Can you say, bankruptcy?

This is slow land grab creep. Small changes to land designations and the people do not even know it is happening. Some of the best stories are when people try to sell their properties, and no one is buying until they find out that their land has been designated something nasty. Would you buy the property? Maybe at a significantly reduced market price. Surely not at what the property owner was expecting to get. After reading this article, check to see what your land designation is and check it every year thereafter. Let me know what you find out.

The Province of Ontario, after 15 terrible years of Liberal rule, will hopefully, under this new government, decide to substantially curtail the activities of the CAs and force them to protect property from flooding and no more.

However, silence is acceptance. Your silence on this issue is not acceptable. Write to your councilor, MPP and the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to complain. This is your opportunity to protect your property rights. The protection of just one property, will protect the rights of all properties.

As for Shakespeare, A Conservation Authority by any other name is still a land thief.

Jeff has been a member of the Ontario Landowners for 15 years. He is a licensed Paralegal and can be contacted by email at jdbogaerts@sympatico.ca.

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