GRCA concerned about provincial bill giving authority to municipalities
KITCHENER -- The Grand River Conservation Authority is raising concerns over a new provincial bill that could take away their authority for watershed management, moving it to municipalities.
The province's proposed COVID-19 Recovery Bill 229, more than 40 different pieces of legislations could be amended, including changing the Conservation Authorities Act.
The GRCA held a special emergency meeting on Monday about the bill.
"To manage the watershed appropriately, with proper work stop orders and our ability to allow or disallow permits is what's being called into question," GRCA Chair Helen Jowett said.
Jowett said decisions made in an upstream community can have a big impact on those living downstream, adding that removing the GRCA's oversight could mean long-term environmental damage.
"We still need to be able to say you have to do something different when it comes to this particular watershed feature, for example, for it to be safe for our drinking water," Jowett said.
Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry said the watershed should be dealt with as a whole.
"I have huge concerns with that," she said. "The watershed should be seen and dealt with as a whole watershed, not on a piecemeal basis."
GRCA officials are worried their inability to provide input could have dangerous outcomes.
A report will be submitted to the province asking for a reconsideration.
"We have to have a strong voice in this," North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton said. "It is deadly to everything we hold dear."
If the bill moves forward, the final reading must happen no later than Dec. 7.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Environment said its received feedback that will help improve the governance, oversight and accountability fo conservation authorities while respecting giving municipalities more say over the services they're paying for.
"We are proposing that all municipally-appointed members of conservation authorities be elected officials to ensure they better represent the interests of their municipalities," the statement said in part. "We are also proposing to enable the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to appoint a member from the agricultural sector to each conservation authority. These proposed changes would ensure fuller representation of municipalities and enable the perspectives on the agricultural sectors into conservation authority governance and decision making."
"With our proposed changes, conservation authorities could still provide advice/support to municipalities and the Province for appeals of Planning Act decisions - increasing accountability, consistency and transparency by streamlining the land use planning process through the one-window approach."