Ontario Premier Doug Ford and two of his cabinet ministers are being blasted by blowback from conservation authorities and a majority of the directors of the Greenbelt Council.
They object to changes he is proposing that would enable the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to over-rule grassroots conservation authorities and the Greenbelt Plan.
Ford’s initiative is part of his campaign promise to reduce red tape faced by developers.
Despite the protests, the legislation passed and received Royal Assent Tuesday.
Former Toronto Mayor and MP David Crombie and six directors of the Greenbelt Council have resigned in protest.
The chair of the Grand River Conservation Authority, the oldest in the province and one that pioneered subsidies for farmers to undertake measures to protect drinking water quality, issued a statement strongly critical of Ford’s proposals.
“While the government took into consideration some of our feedback by making revisions to sections in Schedule 6 involving board governance and the ability for conservation authorities to issue stop orders, unfortunately, these changes don’t completely address our concerns,” said chair Helen Jowett.
Many amendments made to the Conservation Authorities Act through Schedule 6 remain unchanged, such as those that remove and/or significantly hinder the conservation authorities’ role in regulating development.
The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry will have the ability to make decisions on permit appeals and issue permits without watershed data and expertise from the conservation authorities.
Further to this, a new section was added to Schedule 6, which will require a conservation authority to issue a permit when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO).
In addition conservation authorities as land owners will not be able to appeal most planning decisions that affect their lands, even though conservation authorities are the second largest landowners in Ontario.
Kevin Eby of Waterloo, one of the directors who resigned from the Greenbelt Council, said a conservation authority takes an overview of an entire watershed when it reviews applications for development and that perspective will be lost.
He said one example is that development upstream can have impacts on municipalities and people more than 100 kilometres downstream.
He also countered criticisms from Ford and his cabinet that the Council has been too slow in bringing forward proposals to expand the Greenbelt.
Eby said it was only mentioned once in passing when the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry attended a meeting to introduce himself to the Council and nothing has been said since.