By Don Kerr, member of Board and WAG
The Trust has written several letters to the new Ontario government in an attempt to improve environmental legislation. We wrote to the ministers of Municipal Affairs (MMA) and Natural Resources (MNR) to request that they work together to expand the Greenbelt including the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The NEP is the MNR’s responsibility and the rest of the Greenbelt comes under MMA and they frequently do not work together.
We wrote to the minister of Natural Resources to request changes to the
Conservation Authorities Act. We requested a) restoration of previous funding levels by the province, b) a coordinated approach to fully protect 17% of Ontario’s lands to international standards, c) a change in the conduct of environmental assessments to make them more independent, d) a new approach to flood-prone areas, and e) oblige CA and MNR officers to enter private properties to protect significant natural features including species at risk. The letters have been acknowledged but no responses yet.
We wrote to the executive chair of the new Local Planning Appeal Tribunal that has replaced the OMB to request establishment of a status at appeal hearings that is between powerlessness (Participant status) and excessive expense (Party Status). We are also pursuing an explicit recognition that a Municipality can go beyond the Planning Act to provide greater protection of sensitive natural areas in their Official Plans.
We signed on to a letter to the Premier from several environmental organizations to encourage better environmental protection legislation. In a separate letter we chastised the government for its reduced transparency when it failed to make public ministerial mandate letters.
Procedural Rules have been revised temporarily for LPAT. They still do not explicitly allow a status between Party (excessive expense) and Participant (powerlessness). We have occasionally been successful in requesting a Special Participant status allowing us to present an environmental expert; however, it is subject to agreement by all Parties and the hearing officer. We will ask for this provision to be included in the next revision.
The revised Procedural Rules oblige an expert witness to be unbiased. This has been OMB policy for a few years; however, we did not see any substantial change when it became policy. In environmental matters, there is much room for opinion and judgment re harm to the ecosystem. We believe the solution is to require the initial assessment to be done by an independent expert such as the Conservation Authority.