Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research and Policy
On November 1st, CFFO held its third and final Provincial Council meeting of the year. We had two speaker presentations, both focused on water management. This week’s commentary focuses on proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act as presented by John Dungavell and Julia Holder, both from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). Next week’s commentary will discuss Brent Taylor’s presentation on water-focused collaboration in Australia.
Dungavell and Holder began their presentation with a review of key historical changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, which was first established in 1946 in response to issues of deforestation and soil erosion around the province. Holder reminded us that since then we have come a long way in improving soil health and tree cover, but also that the same issues are still with us.
The CFFO has been actively involved in the ongoing recent consultations on changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. Currently Bill 139, Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act is at committee, having passed second reading in September. CFFO members around the table were particularly interested in clarification from the ministry staff on the role of Conservation Authorities (CAs) in dealing with private land owners. Part of the proposed changes focus on these very questions.
Over time, CAs have taken on increasing responsibilities on behalf of both provincial and municipal governments, and their roles have become “murky.” This review seeks to bring greater clarity to CAs’ roles and responsibilities, and more transparency.
Dungavell and Holder clarified that CAs play a key role in natural hazard management—including flooding, ice and erosion issues—on behalf of the province. This is why they have permitting authority relating to risk zones for hazard management such as wetlands, shorelines and watercourses, including on private land. As part of permitting, they are also allowed to charge fees for cost recovery.
Dungavell and Holder stressed that the focus of CAs on wetland areas, for example, should be on this natural hazard management role. In consultations, the province heard concerns about conflicts between the CAs’ roles in hazard management and their advisory role regarding other environmental concerns, such as biodiversity. Dungavell and Holder pointed out that wetland contributions to biodiversity or endangered species protection is not part of natural hazard protection, and are only part of the advising, not the permitting, role of CAs.
Ministry staff were also able to clarify questions from CFFO members about another Conservation Authority-related bill which raised concerns for farmers. Private members Bill 86 asks that at least half of the members of a Conservation Authority board have significant background or training in an environmental or natural resource field. This would prevent otherwise qualified farmers without this training or experience from serving on CA boards. This is separate from Bill 139 outlined above, and as a private member’s bill, faces more challenges to being passed.
The CFFO will continue to engage with government on regulatory changes that follow legislative changes to the Act. The CFFO wants to see appropriate balance between hazard management and farmers’ need to make a living from their land.