Conservation Authorities Legislative Update

  • December 17, 2020
  • Jonathan Nehmetallah, Gardiner Roberts LLP

Ontario has 36 conservation authorities that act as community-based management agencies who undertake watershed-based programs to protect the community from natural hazards including flooding. As the name suggests, conservation authorities also conserve natural resources for economic, social, and environmental benefits.

On December 8, 2020, Bill 229 being the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures) 2020 received Royal Assent becoming law in Ontario. Amongst other changes beyond the scope of this article, Bill 229, through Schedule 6, significantly alters the powers of Conservation Authorities (“CAs”).  The changes come on the heels of a fierce public debate where the CAs, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and other members of civil society argued that the changes would require CAs to contravene their mandate to protect people, infrastructure and the environment. The Ontario Home Builders’ Association and numerous landowner groups supported those changes arguing the changes are necessary to ensure the CAs do not stray beyond their mandate.

Some of the most substantial changes include the ability of the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (the “Minister”) to override the jurisdiction of a CA over a permit decision, the creation of a scheme whereby permits must be granted by the CAs if enumerated criteria are met, new routes of appeal, and changes to the composition of the CA’s board of directors.  The details of some of the changes are outlined below.