05/07/2007

Bill 184, Endangered Species Act, 2007. AMO Submission to the Standing Committee on General Government, Queens Park, Toronto. Monday, May 7, 2007.
Doug Reycraft, AMO President
Monday, May 7, 2007, 11:20 a.m.
Committee Room 151, Queens Park, Toronto
AMO Submission to the Standing Committee on General Government
Re: Bill 184, Endangered Species Act, 2007 

(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the Committee.

My name is Doug Reycraft. I’m the Mayor of Southwest Middlesex and the President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). Our organization represents more than 400 municipalities across the province, your partners in governance. I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to present our views with respect to Bill 184.

Let me begin by stressing that municipalities are strongly committed to species stewardship and environmental protection. We share the objectives embodied in Bill 184 and commend the Government for its efforts to promote the protection of endangered species in Ontario. But while we agree that protection of our species at risk is essential and that the Act should be reviewed, we do have a number of concerns 
which we feel need to be addressed.

First, it is essential that the potential impacts of this legislation on the economic health of our communities be fully and carefully considered. Many of our members are concerned that Bill 184 will adversely impact industries such as forestry, mining and agriculture, which fuel local economies in rural and northern Ontario. Should this legislation affect these industries, it could also imperil the communities that depend on them for jobs, tax assessment, and ultimately, prosperity.

AMO is pleased to see that a degree of flexibility appears to be built into the legislation to allow for pragmatic decision making. Presumably, this is to protect important economic drivers like forestry and agriculture, as well as for the protection of new economic activities with development potential. 

Still, municipalities need added assurance that new legislation for species at risk will not cause undue economic hardship on rural and northern communities. Many of our members are especially concerned at the definition of habitat (in Section 2 of the Act) which classifies an animal’s habitat in the broadest terms (that is, it includes areas used not just for critical life processes but also areas of migration and general feeding). Many species migrate across lands without directly depending on them and that they do not necessarily return to the same place every year. There is significant fear that broad swathes of land could be suddenly off limits to activities such as agriculture, forestry and mining, which are critical to the sustainability of many Ontario communities. 

In addition, it appears that the recovery strategies outlined in Bill 184 could have significant socio-economic impacts – impacts which have not yet been calculated. Should this legislation restrict land use further, there will be ramifications for local industries and the people that depend on them. Subjecting each new recovery strategy to a socio-economic assessment would help mitigate these impacts and ensure that local economic health and viability are taken into account. Communities need some assurance that their welfare is balanced with that of species at risk.

But as it stands, there is no mechanism to ensure that community interests are considered. The removal of Ministerial discretion for the Species at Risk in Ontario List and the delegation of decision-making to COSSARO (the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario), a science-based body, means that there may be no meaningful way for local interests and community knowledge to be factored in. While scientific expertise and aboriginal traditional knowledge are to be reflected, community knowledge is not. Given that these communities will be most affected by the decisions COSSARO makes, it would be just to include them in the process. Resource-based and agricultural industries are the mainstays of many rural and northern communities. Any legislation that affects these communities needs to be balanced with local interests and ensure local concerns are reflected. People from rural and northern areas are perhaps the most familiar with the species in their region. Discounting their contribution not only undermines their interests but does a disservice to the cause of species protection.

Another item of concern relates to the lack of integration with other legislation. It is currently unclear whether the proposed legislation will supercede municipal decision making under the Planning Act. A municipality’s planning decisions require consistency with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), as well as due diligence with respect to endangered species. Given these pre-existing requirements, AMO would like assurance that municipal decisions under the Planning Act will not be superceded by the new legislation.

As it stands, Bill 184 and the PPS contain different tests to determine activities that would be allowed to occur within the habitat of threatened or endangered species. While the PPS generally prohibits development and site alteration, the tests under Bill 184 are founded on a ‘net gain’ or ‘no net loss’ approach. These differences could cause confusion for local decision makers and lead to inconsistent interpretation across the province.

Already, there is a bevy of legislation (e.g. the Mining Act) that affects land. Other legislation (e.g. the Clean Water Act) contains supercedence provisions. The management of land and related processes is becoming increasingly complex. There is an urgent need for more integration and coordination from the Province.

By way of conclusion, I’d like to stress that AMO and our member municipalities remain committed to the conservation and recovery of species at risk in Ontario. We applaud the Government’s efforts to make improvements to the systems currently in place. However, the proposed legislation may need to be refined if the interests of communities and the people who live there are respected and implementation occurs effectively. We welcome further opportunities to work with the Government to ensure that the legislative proposal is a valuable tool for species protection while preserving the health and livelihoods of all Ontarians.

Finally, a word of advice to all members of this Committee. You have heard from many parties expressing grave concerns about this legislation. As this Bill moves forward, you must be certain that you have given these concerns your full consideration. Thank you.