BILD: Conservation authorities need to refocus

Updates to legislation governing conservation authorities are long overdue 

Recent headlines have reflected concerns about the changes that the provincial government is introducing to the legislation that governs conservation authorities, the agencies mandated to manage watersheds and protect against natural hazards. Many of these headlines have been quite alarmist. When we look at the facts, we can see that the changes are intended to refocus conservation authorities on their core priorities and ensure they provide consistent service standards across the province.

Conservation authorities were created in Ontario nearly seven decades ago and took on greater importance after the devastating impacts of Hurricane Hazel in the 1950s. The services and expertise these 36 separate bodies provide help protect the safety, property and livelihood of virtually every Ontarian.

In the 1990s, provincial governments began to pay less attention to conservation authorities. For the next three decades, conservation authorities across the province quite naturally drifted, ending up with different guidelines, service standards and fee schedules. Many assumed responsibilities, such as natural heritage protection, that are the proper mandate of other levels of government.

As much-needed housekeeping, the current provincial government has amended the enabling legislation for conservation authorities, refocusing them on their core priorities of protecting source water and managing natural hazards like soil erosion and flooding. The changes will also ensure that the role of conservation authorities in protecting Ontario’s natural environment is clear and transparent.  And finally, the changes will update standards and guidelines and ensure consistency across the province.

Critics have argued that the changes being put forward by the government will be used to circumvent the powers of conservation authorities, but the expert panel that is directing these changes includes representation from conservation authorities.

These updates to legislation governing conservation authorities are long overdue.

Dave Wilkes is President and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), the voice of the home building, land development and professional renovation industry in the GTA. For the latest industry news and new home data, follow BILD on Twitter, @bildgta, or visit

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