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The trend towards “modernization of approvals” (otherwise known as “permit by rule” for what are supposed to be routine, lower risk, routinely-permitted activities) continues to spread across the Ontario government. Now it’s the turn of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Public Lands Act. On January 1, 2014, regulation changes affecting the following approvals will come into effect: 1. Work permits will no longer be required, if rules are followed, for the following activities:

• Maintenance dredging; • Relocation of rocks and/or boulders for boating and swimming access; • Mechanical removal of native aquatic vegetation for swimming or boating access in southern Ontario; and • Mechanically removing invasive (i.e. non-native) aquatic vegetation.

Dredging, removing rocks and vegetation to “improve” cottage waterfronts has long been a notable cause of deterioration in habitat for aquatic species. 2. Work permits will no longer be required, if rules are followed with mandatory notification to the Ministry, for the following activities:

  1. • Construction of buildings for mineral exploration and development; and
  2. • Restoring, repairing or replacing an existing erosion control structure.

See: Modernization of Approvals – Proposed Regulatory Amendments to Work Permits issued under the Public Lands Act, EBR Registry Number 011-7669

Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller has grave concerns about the “Modernization” approach, and the cost-cutting that it is enabling in the Ministry of Natural Resources. Miller says budget cuts and regulatory changes like these have reduced MNR’s effectiveness, not made it more efficient:

“MNR’s Risk-Based Approach Could Be Risky

A recurring theme in MNR’s transformation initiatives is the use of a risk-based approach to decision making. In particular, this approach is cited as a key tool in the modernization of MNR approvals, in the shift to a landscape approach to natural resource management, and in its operational delivery transformation. While employing a risk-based approach is reasonable, the ECO is concerned that MNR has not explained how it will assess and weigh the various risks associated with any of these transformation initiatives. The outcome of a risk-based approach depends on the weight accorded each of the different factors considered.

Without more details, it is uncertain whether MNR will consistently prioritize avoiding risks to natural resources over MNR’s desire for a more  “sustainable fiscal path” or other considerations. In the context of approvals modernization, the fact that MNR has stated that it will assess, among other things, the risk to government, public and private finances and the economy, as well as public expectations of government, and that it will consider additional factors, such as “the need to balance public and private interests in the use of a public resource,” reinforces this concern.” (see p. 52)

It also remains to be seen if MNR will actually enforce the “rules” in its new “permit by rule” system.

See Miller’s Annual Report, Serving the Public.

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