Role of the Ministries of Natural Resources and the Environment, and of Conservation Authorities
One of the major obstacles to greenlands protection in the Central Ontario Zone is that responsibility for various aspects of the environment resides with two different provincial ministries (Natural Resources and Environment) and conservation authorities. This contributes to a situation in which there is a distinct lack of coordination and consistency in how provincial and municipal Natural Heritage policies are applied across the province.
Recommendation #4: As a key element of a Smart Growth Strategy, the Province should seriously consider amalgamating the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, and the conservation authorities into a single administrative body (a "super ministry" patterned along the lines of the United States Environmental Protection Agency) with responsibility for managing all facets of the natural and physical environment.
Recommendation #5: As part of a Smart Growth Strategy, the Province should undertake a complete re-evaluation of the entire plan review process, especially the roles of the Province, municipalities, and conservation authorities. Consideration should be given to the idea of producing a Central Ontario Zone Plan that knits together the existing Official Plans into a linked and coherent vision of what this portion of the Province is intended to look like well into the future. From a greenlands perspective, this exercise should clearly identify those areas that deserve protection and provide an ultimate vision of what the natural heritage system of Central Ontario should look like 100 years from now that is not simply driven by patterns of growth or demographics.
Role of the Ontario Municipal Board
Nowadays it seems that too many of the planning decisions in the Central Ontario Zone are being made by the Ontario Municipal Board. We need to explore means of ensuring that the land use designations in an Official Plan have some real status and some degree of permanence over the life of the Plan.
Recommendation #6: The Province should take a meaningful look at ways to break the trend of "Planning by Official Plan Amendment." This may mean limiting the ability of a proponent to refer a planning decision or application to the Ontario Municipal Board with the intent of changing the designations under the Official Plan, particularly those that relate to greenlands.
Realistic Timelines for Implementation
Municipalities need to be given incentives to bring their Official Plans into conformity with the Provincial Policy Statement, not strict deadlines. Furthermore, effective conformity is required in these documents, not just lip service. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan contains provisions that require municipalities to adopt the plan and begin the preparation of comprehensive watershed conservation plans within one year, but provide little technical guidance in this regard.
Recommendation #7: The Province should take a strong leadership role in encouraging municipalities to prepare watershed conservation plans, but with clearer direction and within realistic timelines. Otherwise there is a very real risk that the quality of the end product will suffer and that bad planning decisions will ensue. If this initiative results in the proliferation of a large number of inadequate watershed plans, then we may be better off with no plans at all.
Another prevalent aspect of natural heritage planning is that too often policies and regulations are formulated and decisions made in a purely reactive way. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan is a classic example of this type of planning response. It is imperative that future policy direction evolves proactively and addresses major policy gaps such as greenlands acquisition and long-term management.
Recommendation #8: As part of a Smart Growth Strategy, the Province should encourage municipalities to expand traditional planning horizons from the 15-20 year range out to the 30-50 year range and beyond, because the time scale required to establish and maintain a healthy greenlands system is measured in multiple human generations.