Conservation Halton President to Chair ‘working group’ committee on Environmental Policy

By: Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald
When it comes to shaping Ontario’s environmental policies, Southwestern Ontario has been left out in the cold.
A new 18-member ‘working group’ committee — struck after the province gutted the powers of local conservation authorities last December — is supposed to provide input as to how the province will incorporate the sweeping changes.
With the exception of one officer from Grand River Conservation Authority, there’s no representation west of the Kitchener-Waterloo area .
But there is, however, representation from three Toronto area developers. One, called Mattamy Homes, made a $100,000 donation to Ontario Proud in 2018.
According to Election Ontario records, Ontario Proud is a political advocacy group that was instrumental in getting Doug Ford elected as premier.
West Elgin deputy mayor Richard Leatham is hot under the collar about the lack of local voices on the committee.
As a Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority executive member and director, Leatham says shutting out Southwestern Ontario is “ridiculous.”
Leatham says rural residents are being ignored, their opinions discounted.
“Are we just rural people that they think don’t know anything?” Leatham asks. “It’s incredible.
“It’s very difficult to understand how people can make good judgements when they are not from this area,” Leatham adds.
The Rodney resident isn’t alone. South Chatham-Kent councillor Trevor Thompson, who is vice-chair of the LTVCA, says it’s “frustrating to the LTVCA left without a voice.”
For decades, he says, successive governments act like the province ends at London.
Thompson says Chatham-Kent is facing some unique pressures with flooding and erosion, wetland protection and phosphorus reduction, unlike other areas in Ontario.
“To not be able to add to the conversation I think limits the effectiveness of the whole process,” he adds.
North Chatham-Kent councillor Joe Faas is also upset by the omission.
As a member of the St. Clair Conservation Authority board, Faas thinks representation on the committee should be more balanced.
“I think they should have done more to make it evenly distributed,” Faas says, adding the all the watersheds across a huge swath of the province all have their unique challenges.
“Every conservation authority and every area has different issues,” he says, adding it looks like the new committee is catering to Toronto.
“There’s more to Ontario than that area,” he says. “We should have definitely had some representation from our area.”
Critics of the newly formed committee — which critics say was thrown together to in an attempt to appease outrage over the changes — contend the group is in danger of neglecting some of the Great Lakes most important watersheds.
The conservation authority changes were pushed through the Ontario legislature as part of an omnibus bill on Dec. 8.
Conservation authority officials say they were blindsided by the government’s decision.
There are number of big changes in the wings for conservation authorities, including the clarification of mandatory programs vs. non-mandatory programs, defining watercourses and wetlands and how determining how development should take place in those areas, as well as how conservation authorities should levy the municipalities they represent.
Conservation Halton president Hassaan Basit has been chosen to chair the group that will develop new regulations.
Calls to Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister Jeff Yurek, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, were unanswered as of press time.