Changes to legislation to address climate change
By Jenn Watt
Published July 20, 2017
A meeting with the environmental commissioner of Ontario got local politicians talking about upcoming legislation that will affect municipalities. However, specifics about how that change will happen are not yet known.
A new piece of provincial legislation called the Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act introduces changes that the government says will give more power to municipalities to address climate change.
A summary on the ECO’s website says municipalities will be able to create bylaws that more explicitly deal with greenhouse gases. Examples include requiring green roofs, participating in “long-term energy planning,” and adopting policy around tree canopy and natural vegetation.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said there are still few details available, but that municipalities within the county are already working to protect vegetation and shorelines.
Moffatt said that during the lunch with environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe, which took place before her Environment Haliburton talk in Minden on July 6, local politicians gave Saxe a sense of what some of the local issues entail.
“In terms of climate change, we had a conversation around water levels and what that does to Haliburton County,” said Moffatt.
“For us, so much of what we do is tied to our land and landscape, which is becoming increasingly dramatically affected by water levels.”
Saxe had invited the reeves of all four lower-tier municipalities to the lunch, which was about an hour and a half. Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin, Moffatt, Dysart Reeve Murray Fearrey and Highlands East Deputy-reeve Suzanne Partridge attended.
Devolin said the meeting was partially about building relationships and learning more about what the ECO does.
“We talked about the law and the practicalities [of her office], much like the auditor general, their power principally is writing reports” and highlighting problematic practices and policies, he said.
“There is no legislative power for the commissioner to compel the government to do anything,” he said. However, she does have a mandate to deliver reports every year on the environment, climate change and energy and her office can draw attention to issues more easily than other groups.
As the watchdog of the environmental bill of rights in Ontario, the office has done work around making the environmental registry more accessible with an online alert system anyone can use for free (go to eco.on.ca for more).
When it comes to the new legislation, Moffatt said her initial understanding is that it will give more power to municipalities to make bylaws that are tailored to the local community.
“We have to make decisions within a specific framework as provided by and directed by the province,” she said. The hope is that the changes will broaden the scope of what municipal councils can do.
Devolin said while it’s not clear how the changes will affect Minden Hills, he worries about how to fund any new obligations.
“Our biggest fear as politicians: there’s all kinds of things in terms of staffing we’ll have to do with little or no money attached to it,” he said.
Devolin said more conversation is to come at the upcoming Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference and during next year’s provincial election campaign.