Time is running out for action if changes to the oversight role of conservation authorities is of particular concern. On Thursday morning, Green Party of Ontario leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner held a media availability, and leaned on the support of over 100 groups from around Ontario, to make one last push against, what he calls, an “attack on conservation authorities.”
“The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs is finalizing amendments to Bill 229. This bill, an omnibus budget bill designed to address the global pandemic, currently contains Schedule 6, a proposal to gut conservation authorities who protect our drinking water, and to protect us from flooding,” Schreiner said.
On that last item, Schreiner noted that flooding is the costliest of extreme weather events, and in 11 out of the last 12 years Canadian insurance companies have paid out over a billion dollars for claims related to funding.
“We know that the cost to infrastructure is three times that amount, and experts say that cost of flooding will triple over the next decade,” Schreiner added. “That is why it’s so fiscally irresponsible for this government to act with such reckless disregard for the way conservation authorities protect our water, and protect us from flooding, saving lives and saving money.”
Schreiner explained that he was also speaking on behalf of 150 different municipalities, non-profits, environmental groups, and other advocates who are asking the Provincial government to drop Schedule 6. Critics say that the proposed amendments to the Conservation Authorities Act will allow developers to bypass the concerns of conservation authorities, reduce user fees at parks and trails, and will override the authorities’ ability to issue stop work orders, or issue fines for things like illegal dumping.
One group Schreiner quoted was the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), who in their own submission said that the Provincial government was being heavy-handed with these changes, and are risking the creation of inefficiency in the management of conservation authorities.
“Over the past number of years, tremendous effort has been put forward by municipal governments to find a collective path forward that refines certain matters and bolsters the ability to protect the environment in a meaningful way,” AMO President Graydon Smith wrote in his correspondence. “Municipalities were looking for needed refinements, not this proposed wholesale change.”
“Municipal governments and conservation authorities both are open to meeting with the government to reach a workable outcome,” Smith added.
“Workable outcomes” though are secondary to the need to stop the changes of Schedule 6 from going into effect. “I’m always in favour of consultation, but the truth is the Ford government did not consult conservation authorities or municipal leaders on the proposed changes,” Schreiner told Guelph Politico in a statement after the presser. “The primary goal right now is to remove Schedule 6.”
Fighting Schedule 6 has been a major pre-occupation for Schreiner as of late. On Sunday, he held a media availability in Cambridge with Mayor Kathryn McGarry and Grand River Conservation Authority chair Helen Jowett , where he talked specifically about the flood risk in the Grand River watershed. Flooding was a concern in Cambridge as recently as January of this year, and Schreiner argued that the preventative measures provided by the GRCA are worth the price.
“The most financially responsible decision would be to strengthen Conservation Authorities so they can provide better watershed data to help the province avoid more costly floods,” Schreiner wrote in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford Wednesday. “The
average cost to repair a flooded basement is $43,000. Whereas the Conservation Authority only costs a resident in the Grand River watershed $2.81 per year. This is a bargain at a time when scientists warn flooding costs will triple over the next decade.”
Last month, Guelph City Council unanimously passed a motion to encourage the Government of Ontario to pause the proposed changes in Schedule 6, “in accordance with feedback and further consultations with Conservation Authorities and municipalities to address these concerns.”