While this year has been challenging for us all, it has also given us an opportunity to take a step back and focus on the important things in life. While our Province was locked down for months, ERCA was able to keep conservation areas and trails open for people’s physical and mental health. We received so many notes of appreciation, and there is renewed recognition that while there is much we can live without, our need for nature is paramount.
As you may have heard on November 5, 2020, the provincial government tabled Bill 229 Protect, Support, and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020. This piece of legislation encompasses more than just a budget in response to COVID-19. It includes significant and concerning changes to the Conservation Authorities Act .
Our concerns with proposed CA Act amendments:
1) Ability for developers to bypass CAs: Conservation Authorities have a legislated responsibility to ensure development does not occur in flood hazard areas and that our floodplains and wetlands are not adversely impacted. We work hard to ensure new development is balanced and that our communities are safe and livable, with ample greenspace. The amendments proposed by the Provincial government outline a process whereby developers and others can go around Conservation Authorities to have permits approved by the Province directly.
2) Ability to continue to offer Parks, Education & other programs and services considered ‘non-mandatory’: We provide opportunities for recreation and education in our conservation areas and along the 80 kilometers of greenway trails acquired and developed with funds raised by the community. As we continue to see throughout this pandemic, the need for safe and accessible greenspace is at an all-time high. We are concerned that should the Ministry impose limits on non-mandatory programs and services, our ability to provide important recreational and educational opportunities that allow our community to connect with nature will be significantly diminished.
3) Ability to remain above politics and special interests: The proposed changes to the composition of CA boards could disrupt what is currently a relatively apolitical structure. Our Board of Directors carry out their fiduciary responsibilities, guide strategy, approve policies in support of our Provincial and municipal responsibilities, and track performance. They ensure decisions are made with integrity, and meet the needs of our local watersheds. Changing the composition to reflect elected officials that represent the interests of their respective municipalities could create conflicts of interest that may not take into consideration the health of the entire watershed.
4) Ability to monitor, restore and grow our natural areas: Since 1973, ERCA has been protecting and enhancing the natural heritage of our region. While have planted more than 6.5 million trees and restored thousands of acres of habitat, the Windsor-Essex region still only consists of 8.5% natural areas coverage. The United Nations has identified a minimum requirement of 12% for sustainability. Environment Canada’s standard is 30%. Trees have been identified as one of the most effective weapons in the fight against climate change, and are also important to mitigate flooding impacts. If our ability to continue to restore natural areas is diminished, so too will be the health and sustainability of our region. Should the new amendments pass, our ability to make independent science-based decisions in the interest of the community will be significantly limited. Our wetlands, valleys, and water will be at risk.
How You Can Help
There are many partners across the Province of Ontario who are also concerned about the impact of these proposed changes. If you would like to learn more about why conservation matters, you can view this presentation hosted by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and send a letter to the Minister of the Environment through Ontario Nature.
Thank you for your support of the health of the Windsor-Essex watersheds.