BURLINGTON, ON
Monday, October 31, 2022

Last week, the Ontario provincial government introduced Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster, 2022,  which includes many proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. Our recommendations are highlighted in a letter (click here to download PDF) sent today to Premier Ford, Minister Clark, Minister Smith and Minister Piccini.

“After review of Bill 23, Conservation Halton has identified areas where the government needs to press pause. Conservation Halton is asking the Province to engage with Conservation Authorities to consider better alternatives to balancing housing supply with protection of communities from flooding and erosion. We want the core mandate of Conservation Authorities, to protect life and property, to in fact be upheld”.
⁠— Hassaan Basit, President & CEO, Conservation Halton


Dear Premier Ford, Minister Clark, Minister Smith and Minister Piccini,

We are writing to you in response to Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, which was announced on Tuesday, October 25th, 2022, specifically regarding Schedule 2.

We agree that there is a housing supply and affordability issue in Ontario that needs to be pragmatically addressed. We support the government’s commitment to reducing unnecessary barriers to development and streamlining processes. We share this commitment and publicly report on the standards of service delivery to illustrate our goal of providing the best customer service to the municipalities, communities, residents and developers we serve.

We will do our part to help the Province meet its goal of building 1.5 million homes in Ontario over the next ten years. We think your stated outcomes are important but are concerned that your proposed legislative changes may have unintentional, negative consequences. Rather than creating the conditions for efficient housing development, these changes may jeopardize the Province’s stated goals by increasing risks to life and property for Ontario residents.

  1. Potential sweeping exemptions to transfer CA regulatory responsibilities to municipalities

    Conservation Halton would like to understand the government’s intentions with this proposed exemption. It is unclear whether it will be limited to certain types of low-risk development and hazards, or if the purpose is to transfer Conservation Authorities (CA) responsibilities to municipalities on a much broader scale. While the government wants to focus CAs on their core mandate, this proposed sweeping exemption signals the exact
    opposite. As proposed in the legislation, the CA exclusions will nullify the core functions of CAs and open up significant holes in the delivery of our natural hazard roles, rendering them ineffective. This will negatively impact our ability to protect people and property from natural hazards, which seem to be more and more prevalent with extreme weather events.

    Without limitations or further scoping, these proposed changes signal the likelihood of future delegation of CA permitting roles to municipalities that have neither capacity nor expertise in water resources engineering, environmental planning and regulatory compliance. This will result in longer response times and increased costs and impede the government’s goal of making life more affordable.

    Municipalities will also assume sole liability for the impact of development on natural hazards within municipal boundaries and on neighbouring upstream and downstream communities, which is a significant and new responsibility that they have never had to manage.

    Key Recommendations:
    • Address this risk expressly – keep all hazard-related responsibilities with CAs.
    • Engage with the existing multi-stakeholder Conservation Authorities Working Group (CAWG) to ensure there is a streamlined, consistent and scoped process for CAs to help the Province achieve its housing goals while ensuring costs are low, the process is fast and Ontario taxpayers are protected.

  2. Proposed change that would prohibit CAs from entering into MOUs with municipalities for other services (e.g., natural heritage reviews, select aspects of stormwater management reviews, etc.)

    Conservation Halton has demonstrated that we can deliver these services efficiently without lengthening the approvals process. There is no evidence that municipalities can do this faster or cheaper. Bill 23 as currently written, precludes municipalities from entering into agreements with CAs to provide advice on environmental and natural heritage matters. They will have to coordinate with neighbouring municipalities and the Province on a watershed basis, rather than taking advantage of expertise already available within many CAs.

    Key Recommendations:
    • Municipalities should retain the option to enter into MOUs with CAs, with clearly defined terms, timelines and performance measures, as allowed under Section 21.1.1 (1) of the CA Act.
    • Work with the CAWG to develop guidance for commenting and exploring the option of limiting CAs from commenting beyond natural hazards risks except where a CA has entered into an agreement or MOU.

  3. Proposed change to freeze CA fees

    This proposal has no guidelines on the timing or permanence of the fee freeze. Conservation Halton has already undertaken an extensive cost-based analysis that has been benchmarked against other development review fees to ensure our fees do not exceed the cost to deliver the service. We meet regularly with developer groups and municipalities to ensure our fees, processes and service standards are transparent, consistent and fair. We hope that you will be guided by your already approved fee policy that Conservation Halton supports, otherwise this change will impose additional costs on municipalities.

    Key Recommendation:
    • Require CAs to demonstrate to the Province that permit and planning fees do not exceed the cost to deliver the program or service and only consider freezing fees if CAs are exceeding 100% cost recovery.

  4. Wetland Offsetting

    Wetlands play a critical role in mitigating floods. Further wetland loss may result in serious flooding, putting the safety of communities at risk. Wetlands are a cost-effective strategy for protecting downstream properties. The government must be prudent when considering changeslike offsetting, which could negatively affect the ability of wetlands to reduce flooding and confuse roles in wetland management and protection between municipalities and CAs.

Conservation Halton is disciplined and focused on providing mandatory programs and services related to natural hazards. We have a transparent and proven track record of providing regulatory services that are streamlined, accountable and centred on rigorous service delivery standards. Our commitment focuses on stakeholder engagement, from meeting homeowners on-site to engaging with the development community to better understand perceived barriers. This approach helps us find innovative solutions for continued and safe growth in the municipalities we serve.

To ensure the most effective implementation of this Bill, we believe it is critical that the government presses pause on the proposed changes we have highlighted and meet with us to clarify and consider more effective alternatives. It is our hope that we can work with you again to safeguard the best possible outcomes for the people of Ontario.

You had such great success through the multi-stakeholder CA Working Group, which your Progressive Conservative government created and which Hassaan Basit, President and CEO of Conservation Halton, chaired. We strongly suggest continuing this engagement and we stand ready to help.

Sincerely,

Gerry Smallegange (Chair, Conservation Halton Board of Directors)
Mayor Gordon Krantz (Town of Milton, Conservation Halton Board member)
Mayor Rob Burton, BA, MS (Town of Oakville, Conservation Halton Board member)
Mayor Marianne Meed Ward (City of Burlington, Conservation Halton Board member)

cc:
MPP Ted Arnott
MPP Parm Gill
MPP Stephen Crawford
MPP Effie Triantafilopoulos
MPP Natalie Pierre
MPP Donna Skelly
MPP Deepak Anand
MPP Peter Tabuns

-30 –

Media contact:
Andrea Arrogante
Communications Specialist
905-693-2083
aarrogante@hrca.on.ca