We Are A Voice for Improving Legislation for Protection of the Ecosystem

By Don Kerr, Board and WAG member

Over the years, the Trust has been sending submissions to government commenting on ways to improve the legislation that we must operate under in order to better protect the ecosystem. Here are some recent examples:

October 16: Submission to Standing Committee on Social Policy re Bill 139

Bill 139 has three parts: changes to the Ontario Municipal Board, the Planning Act and the Conservation Authorities Act. We submitted extensive comments on each part on July 26. There was a further request for comments by the Standing Committee and we submitted on October 16 as follows.

OMB Rules & Procedures:

The rules should allow a status somewhere between the very costly Party status versus the powerless Participant status.

Amendments to Planning Act:

In order to actually give communities a stronger voice, the municipal Official Plan must be given precedence over the PPS when the OP exceeds the environmental protection offered by section 2.1 of the PPS. This provision is particularly important for Settlement Areas and those regions that are not within the Growth Plan for GGH. This provision must be made explicit because the OMB currently considers the PPS to be the dominant rule hence limiting the municipal voice. This is particularly important because sensitive features identified in Natural Heritage System studies are not protected when the owner appeals to the OMB.

Conservation Authorities Act:

We noted that some very important changes are still missing from the June 17 proposal.

1. A Land Securement Strategy is needed if we are to meet Ontario’s commitment to the 2012 Ontario Biodiversity Strategy.

2. We recommend some improvements in Section 20(1) objects of the CA’s.

3. We recommend that provincial funding be restored to former levels. For example, in our local CA, the province provided 40% of funds in 1993 falling steadily to the current 7%. THIS IS CRUCIAL

4. A mandatory oath of office for CA Board members would avoid issues of conflict of interest.

October 6: Submission re Natural Heritage System Studies

We noted that identified natural heritage features are not equally protected throughout Ontario. Currently, in designated Settlement Areas like Collingwood, the Planning Act and the PPS are the dominant legislation for environmental matters. Our experience with the OMB confirms this as a fact. So there is no real protection from appeals to the OMB for NHS-identified areas unless they are Provincially Significant areas. We have previously made submissions to correct this situation by allowing protection of NHS-identified areas in municipal Official Plans to go beyond the protection offered by the PPS.

If Ontario is sincere about protection of NHS areas, the level of protection must be increased in Settlement Areas and outside the GGH in legislation. One method of protection would be to explicitly provide for the Official Plans to have precedence over the PPS section 2.1 in cases where municipal protection is stronger.

September 26: Letter to Minister of Natural Resources

In our submission re the proposed Conservation Authorities Act, we commented on the need for a Land Securement Strategy for Ontario so we can meet our commitment to protect at least 17 percent of our land under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. We stressed the need for a plan, with timelines, to develop an overall land protection strategy for Ontario involving the various conservation organizations and agencies. We request that a plan be developed under the auspices of the MNRF that brings together these groups so that our commitment to land protection will be realized. Without a coordinated plan, the target will not be met.