OFA supports conservation authorities’ watershed perspective

GUELPH – Ontario’s conservation authorities provide a watershed level planning perspective that transcends municipal borders, says the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).

In a Dec. 8 press release the OFA states it supports the authorities, which also deserve support, not only from the province but also from municipalities.

“Agriculture and conservation authorities have a vested interest in the health and sustainability of our land and our waterways,” said Peggy Brekveld, OFA President. “Ensuring conservation authorities can adequately fulfill their roles and responsibilities is important in enabling farmers and landowners to be able to protect our most vital land and water resources.”

Officials state the issue is a question of long-term planning for protecting and preserving productive land and water resources.

The OFA states the proposed amendments to Schedule 6 of Bill 229 will negatively impact a conservation authority’s role in watershed level planning as well as their role in keeping development out of hazardous areas, such as flood plains, erodible beaches, etc.

“That watershed level planning perspective transcends not only municipal boundaries, but also the boundaries of unique features, such as the Oak Ridges Moraine, as well as protected spaces like the Greenbelt Plan area. Development activities occurring outside the Greenbelt will have negative impacts to protected spaces in the Greenbelt Plan area,” officials state.

OFA “strongly supports” plans for an agricultural representative to have a voice and seat at the board table of the conservation authorities.

“We believe those on the board should have a vested interest in the conservation authority area they’re representing,” the release notes.

However, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs has proposed a new section to Schedule 6 which would require a conservation authority to issue a permit when the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing issues a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO), which can override a conservation authority’s watershed-based decision. The new section requires the conservation authority to issue the permit even if the application does not meet their criteria for issuing a permit and/or contravenes provincial policies and plans.

“OFA opposes the government’s abuse of its MZO powers,” the release states.

“As an organization, we understand the importance of conservation authorities to be able to implement stop work orders when things are not going well or as planned. In those situations, prompt action is vital.”

OFA also agrees that conservation authorities have a role and responsibility in development related to natural hazards and the conservation and management of lands, the ability to appeal planning decisions is appropriate.

“OFA emphasizes that there is only one Ontario landscape, meaning that the full range of land uses found across Ontario; urban, rural, agricultural, natural heritage, cultural heritage and mineral extraction, must share that landscape. Our agricultural areas not only provide us with food, fibre and fuel, but also a broad range of environmental and ecological goods and services that benefit all Ontarians. Ontario’s conservation authorities play a vital role in fulfilling that perspective through their role in watershed level planning.”

The association says that more time and consultation are needed to develop workable solutions for all stakeholders.