St. Clair conservation authority says bill undermines protection of watersheds

St. Clair Conservation Authority on Mill Pond Crescent in Strathroy. November 4, 2018. (Photo by Colin Gowdy, BlackburnNews)

The St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (SCRCA) says a budget bill passed by the provincial government weakens its ability to protect area watersheds and their ecosystems.

Schedule 6 of Bill 229 changes the Conservation Authorities Act, giving the province power to override a conservation authority and issue a development permit in a watershed without a hearing or appeal.

Conservation Authority General Manager Brian McDougall said it’s imperative they continue to be allowed to provide factual, science-based input on any decision surrounding proposed land changes.

“This certainly opens the door to the potential to see losses of wetlands, but also significant concerns for the actual developments that are being proposed,” said McDougall. “We don’t want to see an increase in the risk to life or property that could potentially come out of these approvals from the minister.”

McDougall said the province is stripping conservation authorities of their recognition as a public body.

He said that makes them similar to a ministry, but without any powers.

Other amendments include limiting who a municipality can appoint to represent them, the removal of enforcement tools, and possible provincial interference in local budgets and fees.

McDougall said they would like to see the Schedule 6 portion of the bill declared “unproclaimed” so there’s an opportunity for further discussion about the government’s objectives.