In our watershed, we have four Conservation Authorities, the North Bay Mattawa, Mississippi Valley, Rideau Valley, and South Nation, that represent four smaller watersheds on the Ontario side of the river. Many of you have probably seen their signs when out for a walk in the forest or down by your local river. For more than 70 years, these government agencies, along with the 32 others across the province, have been on the frontlines of protecting nature and communities like yours across Ontario.
They are especially important when it comes to protecting people and property from the potential damage of flooding, such as the devastating events that our community was subjected to in 2017 and 2019. The rising water caused thousands of riverfront residents to be evacuated, resulted in millions of dollars in property damages, and destroyed some precious wetland habitats.
However, now the Ontario government has proposed changes to Schedule 6 of Bill 229 that threatens to completely undermine the ability for Conservation Authorities to properly manage their watersheds, as they have in Ontario since 1946.
To provide you with all the facts, we’ve answered a few questions below to keep you informed.
In 2019, the Ontario government commissioned Ontario’s Special Advisor on Flooding Report to Government: An Independent Review of the 2019 Flood Events in Ontario. Earlier this year, it also released Protecting People and Property: Ontario’s Flooding Strategy. How will the proposed changes to Schedule 6 of Bill 229 incorporate the findings and recommendations from these reports?
Simply put, it does not whatsoever.
In 2019’s Independent Review, the Special Advisor recommended that the province consult and collaborate with Conservation Authorities for flood management. He also indicated that supporting them and municipalities to ensure the protection of wetlands, forests, and other green infrastructure to reduce the impacts of flooding, was a priority.
In 2020’s Flooding Strategy, the Ontario government advised that flood risks must be tackled collaboratively. Strong partnerships between all parties, including Conservation Authorities, along with municipalities, and Indigenous peoples, among others, were mentioned as key.
The previous reports make one sound piece of advice clear: Conservation Authorities are critical to helping warn local people and providing them with timely information on flooding during flooding events. Furthermore, they apply an effective watershed approach to help mitigate flooding, rather than solely focusing on the flood zone. However, rather than applying this advice, the Ontario government has chosen to ignore the facts. Instead, it undermines the partnerships that support making our communities resilient in the face of flooding.
How do the changes to Schedule 6 of Bill 229 prevent Conservation Authorities from effectively protecting bodies of water in Ontario?
Schedule 6 reduces Conservation Authorities’ decision-making power.
Imagine that a company wants to build new office buildings on the beautiful wetland near your home where several species of fish, turtles, and birds live. Under the new changes, it would no longer be the Conservation Authorities, who know the science of your wetland best, who would decide to issue permits for the project or not. It would now be the Minister of Natural Resources and Forests who would hold the power of approval.
In other words, decisions to develop in ecologically sensitive areas that could damage our rivers and wetlands would now be political, rather than based entirely on science, as they should be. This is a huge risk. It could leave communities at the mercy of decisions made simply for political gain, when instead, they should be considering the impacts on your rivers and wetlands.
Why should you care and make your voice heard about the changes to Schedule 6 of Bill 229?
Ontario’s decision eliminates a very competent and necessary middleman. Apart from protecting natural resources, Conservation Authorities provide a link between the provincial government and local communities, like yours, most affected by natural issues, such as flooding.
Collaboration and sharing expertise at a local level is in danger, which in turn, makes it more difficult for us to combat natural disasters that devastate our communities and environment.
Given the increasing effects of global climate change, flooding like the one that ravaged municipalities in 2017 and 2019 may continue to increase. That’s why the Ontario government scaling back the vital Conservation Authorities puts politics first, and nature and people second.