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“Unintentional, negative consequences”: Conservation Halton urges province to rethink housing legislation

M Painchaud
M Painchaud

Legislation that aims to build more Ontario homes through a series of sweeping rule changes could put people and property at risk, Conservation Halton is warning.

The conservation authority says that Bill 23, the province’s recently introduced More Homes Built Faster Act, should be paused.

In a letter sent to Premier Doug Ford and provincial ministers on Monday, Conservation Halton warns that changes to the rules governing Ontario’s conservation authorities 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.”

“We think your stated outcomes are important but are concerned that your proposed legislative changes may have unintentional negative consequences,” says the letter, signed by Mayor Rob Burton and other Conservation Halton board members.

“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.”

Among the proposed changes the authority is worried about:

  • Making municipalities responsible for some conservation authority regulatory responsibilities
  • Prohibiting conservation authorities from entering into agreements with municipalities to offer advice on environmental and natural heritage matters
  • Freezing conservation authority fees
  • Allowing development in wetland areas in exchange for offsetting benefits elsewhere

“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,” said Hassaan Basit, president and CEO of Conservation Halton.

Conservation Ontario, which represents the province’s 36 conservation authorities, has also expressed concern about the impacts of the proposed provincial changes.

“Conservation authorities provide cost-effective solutions that help to solve challenging local issues,” says a press release issued by the organization last week.

“Their watershed-based approach is recognized globally as the best management unit for ensuring we take into consideration a wide range of competing interests and impacts on natural resources. When downloading these kinds of responsibilities to municipalities, we need to consider how development in one jurisdiction can impact other adjacent or ‘downstream’ municipalities.”

Conservation Halton is responsible for a watershed area of more than 1,000 sq. km, made up of about 900 sq. km of land and 100 sq. km of water-based area.

It reviews planning and development applications provides input on government policies and initiatives, and is responsible for updating flood hazard mapping across the watershed. 

Read more: Province changing rules to spur more housing.