By Tom Collins
ARNPRIOR — The Ontario Landowners Association will spend 2020 pushing back against the animal police and the wetlands police.
The landowners’ president and paralegal Jeff Bogaerts, who spent the past year as interim president before being acclaimed as president at the OLA’s annual general meeting in Arnprior in October, said the landowners will continue to work with the provincial government about changes to the animal rights act and the conservation authority act.
Early this year, the OLA was successful in getting the courts to agree that the OSPCA Act was unconstitutional. The province appealed and won.
However, since that appeal hearing, the province released the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, or the PAWS Act, which would replace the OSPCA Act. The PAWS Act would create its own body of about 100 law-enforcers out of existing public servants and will see a huge increase in animal cruelty fines, he said.
The case has cost the OLA about $150,000 since it was first launched six years ago. About $100,000 has been raised through donations.
The battle against the OSPCA Act was a major win for the organization, said Bogaerts. The OLA doesn’t have an official position on the PAWS Act, as the group still needs to go over the act to make sure that there is oversight and accountability for whomever may be enforcing the PAWS Act.
“The big issues for us with the previous act were the (lack of) oversight and accountability of investigators,” he said.
The OLA will also focus on the province’s 36 conservation authorities. The OLA believes that the Conservation Authorities Act allows conservation authorities to overstep their bounds when it comes to their operations (such as operating ski hills, parks, water parks and golf courses), as well as to enforcement and what classifies as a wetland.
Conservation authorities have been declaring wetlands on agricultural lands and telling farmers how they can run their farm, said Bogaerts. He said he has no issue with conservation authorities declaring natural wetlands but takes issue with restrictions on artificially created wetlands, such as when unmaintained drains overflow.
“That’s unacceptable,” said Bogaerts. “When you have a conservation authority that can go onto a farm and say ‘you can’t plow there or you can’t cut that tree’, and you’re trying to tell that to an eighth-generation farm where three members of the farm have all graduated from the University of Guelph in agriculture management, (the farmers say) ‘you’re not qualified to tell me how to run pasture, how to plant, how to fertilize, or how to do anything, so don’t come here and tell what I can or can’t do on my farm.’ ”
Bogaerts claimed the problem with conservation authorities began in 2003 when the Liberals took power provincially. Since then, the Liberal government put a higher priority on the environment than on people, he said. The OLA is meeting with the new PC government to try to get the act changed. Taking the province to court is always a last resort because it is so expensive, he said.
“Our position is work with the government to find a balance between the environment and the needs of people,” he said. “Nobody wants to go to court. We want to negotiate, we want to mediate, we want to discuss, we want common ground.”
The OLA also elected its executive:
• Donna Burns, vice-president, Renfrew County
• Bob Weirmeir, vice-president, Bruce County
• Stefanos Karatopis, governor, Niagara Region
• Duaine McKinley, governor, Brockville
• Ed Kaminsky, governor, Ottawa
• Vaughn Johnstone, governor, Grey County
OLA to focus on reining in animal act and conservation act in 2020
By Tom Collins