Emergency board meeting held by GRCA

·2 min read

Grand River watershed — The Grand River Conservation Authority held an emergency board meeting this week to discuss the province’s proposed changes for conservation authorities and to plan its response.

“I’m asking us to be as thoughtful as possible about what is non-negotiable going forward,” Grand River Conservation Authority Chair Helen Jowett said to open the discussion.

In its summary, the staff report detailing the changes expressed the significance of the planned changes:

“If enacted, some changes will significantly impact the role of a conservation authority board to establish programs and services.

“As well, the proposed amendments will enable Regulations that will either limit or completely change the role of conservation authorities to protect Ontario’s environment and ensure people and property are safe from natural hazards.”

The most impactful proposed change is to mandate that only municipal councillors will be allowed to sit on a conservation authority board, and that board members’ fiduciary duty must be to their individual municipalities rather than to the conservation authority, according to Samantha Lawson, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Grand River Conservation Authority.

Lawson and Jowett both feel this will put individual interests of municipalities above the watershed as a whole.

“We work together to look after the entire watershed because water knows no boundaries. And it works for us,” says Jowett.

“We are concerned that it could undermine that watershed approach, which is very successful currently.”

Other changes introduced in schedule six of Bill 229 — the Protect Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures) — include:

allowing the province to intervene in the conservation authority permitting process at any time and make any decisions with or without use of watershed-level science

remove or limit a conservation authority’s ability to appeal decisions to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and

remove a conservation authority’s (not yet proclaimed) ability to give a stop work order in the case of harmful activity.

Staff at the Grand River Conservation Authority feel the proposed changes will limit any meaningful authority, and interfere with the watershed approach.

The Grand River Conservation Authority board voted to approve the report prepared by staff. A cover letter summarizing the conservation authority’s stance will be added.

Together these will be sent to the Premier, Ministers of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Natural Resources, Municipal housing and Affairs and Finance, watershed MPPs, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and circulated to watershed municipalities.

The entire staff report can be viewed on the conservation authority’s website.

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record