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Province directs conservation authorities to ‘wind down’ programs

Water quality monitoring, tree planting and woodlot management programs may be at risk as the Ford government suggests the province’s conservation authorities ‘wind down’ programs not related to their ‘core mandate.’

Conservation authorities and member municipalities received the request in letters from Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), addressed to ‘whom it may concern’ in relation to proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act earlier this year.

The changes will “require conservation authorities to re-focus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to their core mandate,” the letter said.

“Conservation authorities and Conservation Ontario are stunned by a letter that the Province circulated recommending that conservation authorities start shutting down any programs not related to their ‘core mandate’. This is confusing and extremely disappointing,” said Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario, the Association which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities.

Conservation authorities provide a wide variety of watershed management programs in partnership with all levels of government. These programs are designed to help to reduce or prevent costly and devastating damages of flooding, protect water resources, help to reduce pollution from getting to the Great Lakes and support healthy watersheds.

Quinte Conservation covers a 6,000 square kilometre area including all of Prince Edward County, and the drainage basins of the Moira, Napanee and Salmon rivers. It owns more than 30,000 acres of land ranging from small parcels at some of 39 water control structures, to large tracts of more than 1,000 acres, many with significant natural features.

“We’ve been caught completely by surprise,” Gavine said. “We’ve been working for months in good faith with the government to make a number of planning and development approvals streamlining changes to support their agenda to eliminate the deficit and implement the Housing Strategy.”

She said there was no consultation with Conservation Ontario or the CAs about this letter before it was circulated.

“I can only assume they are trying to avoid criticism about downloading conservation authorities’ programs and services to municipalities,” she said.

Conservation authorities’ provincial funding for natural hazards was reduced by 50 per cent earlier this year.

Gavine pointed out that what the government is proposing isn’t taking into consideration the fact that the CA Act is still a work in progress.

“The changes being proposed by the government to the Conservation Authorities Act haven’t even been proclaimed and we are only starting discussions about the regulations that go with the legislation which will specify which actual programs and services are mandatory,” she said. “After mandatory programs and services are agreed upon by the Province and conservation authorities, then CAs can begin to negotiate the remaining non-mandatory programs with their member municipalities.”

The province made changes to the Act in June “to improve public transparency and accountability in conservation authority operations”. Changes are meant to grant member municipalities greater control over conservation authorities.

Yurek said relevant legislation and regulations that govern the authorities will be reviewed over the coming months.

Conservation Ontario notes the province’s authorities own 150,000 acres of land in Ontario and operate more than 500 conservation areas.

Filed Under: Local News

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  1. Chris Keen says:

    Although it did pass a motion supporting an investigation into the 2019 flooding, the County apparently has nobody who is responsible for liaising with other municipalities/governments and following up to ensure progress is being made on this critical issue, and reporting back to residents.

    It turns out the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee (GLAM) is conducting a survey of landowners affected directly by this year’s flooding. The results will be used to assess how to manage water levels going forward. You might want to check out this link:

    County shoreline property owners should be heard; you might wish to share your experience with GLAM.

  2. kb says:

    Todd Smith and Doug Ford should spend a day at the Creekside Park behind Mary St Picton, or better yet, go visit the H.J. MacFarland Park CA to experience how cuts have affected the parks. Hard to believe there’s no budget money to maintain these county owned properties. The PC’s need open their eyes and take a closer look at the mess they have made, and the power they have to put it right. With every cut, comes a ripple effect.

  3. Gary says:

    The rich and comfortble on here need to be taxed higher to assist those in need.The weak and homeless cannot tackle the record debt.

  4. LB says:

    Thanks for posting that link Chris. The tone of the Plan 2014 administrator’s previous Letter to the Editor post was “get used to the high water, it’s not going to change so take appropriate actions to protect yourselves”. It’s pretty apparent they recognize the effects of their Plan 2014. I hope the conversation about this doesn’t diminish with the water levels only to see record levels again in 2020.

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    Well, let’s hope they will reverse their decision re: the conservation authorities. To date, I don’t recall any significant reversals by the Ford government – not to education, public health cuts, minimum wage or municipal funding.

    For a government to continually speak and to act before knowing the facts or thinking through what they will do, is not one to be defended nor respected. The public should not have to “rise up” regularly because of government stupidity.

  6. Gary Mooney says:

    This plan to narrow the mandate of conservation authorities is another example of the Ford government’s “shoot, read, aim” approach. Something sounds like a good idea, so they bull ahead with it. Then there’s an uprising from the population which informs them of what people see as important to them. The good news is that this government is willing to reverse itself on some issues. It seems that they are learning that it’s not that easy to mount a slash and burn campaign and then expect to get elected.

  7. Chris Keen says:

    Speaking of conservation authorities, if you live on the shores of Lake Ontario, you should watch this.

    The Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board is tasked with controlling the levels of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River under the guidelines set out in their Plan 2014. This plan was developed in secret; there was no consultation, consideration given or concern for its potential impact on homeowners and municipalities on these waters. The plan’s sole purpose is to facilitate shipping.

    Plan 1958DD under which Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence was managed was designed to keep water levels within a four-foot range. Plan 2014 has established a range of seven feet between the highest high and the lowest low. In doing this the Board knew and acknowledged there would be flooding yet did nothing to warn residents and municipalities.

    In the fall of 2018 water levels could have been lowered in Lake Ontario because of record high water levels in Lake Erie. Plan 2014 does not allow this because it is designed so that levels are higher in the fall. What is worse, even though the Board could foresee the possibility of flooding in 2019, Plan 2014 no longer allows for “discretionary decision making” until extreme trigger levels are reached. By this point many areas are already experiencing flooding! The flooding of 2019 was completely avoidable.

    Plan 2014 provides for no mitigation or compensation, yet it puts infrastructure built under the water levels set by Plan 1958DD at risk because of its higher allowable water levels.
    Clearly Plan 2014 is flawed. The Board continues to deny any responsibility for what has occurred. That it has failed twice in three years is a clear indication it needs to be suspended while it is reconsidered with input from ALL concerned parties – not just shipping interests. All levels of government need to make this an urgent priority and join with other affected municipal representatives to request that immediate action be taken on this matter.

  8. Dennis Fox says:

    The debt is a red herring – Ontario is recognized a rich province and the debt did not give Moody’s any reason to downgrade our credit until Ford took over with his “buck-a-beer” economy. Cutting education, healthcare, social services, public sector jobs is not growing the economy, instead it is depressing it. If the debt is truly the reason for Ford’s actions, then why doesn’t he find ways of increasing the provincial income? He could decide to tax the rich and big business more, he could tax the middle class and the poor less giving them more expendable income to buy more, he could tax gas and oil more (carbon tax), he could decrease MPP’s salaries and maybe even the number of MPPs. Ford has decided to put Ontario into the dark ages with his cuts – by even denying that modern sex education might actually help our young people. Talk about old style pork-barreling and backward thinking -that’s our Dougie!

  9. Fred says:

    People thinking this massive debt will never require answering are fooling themselves. Interest on our debt would be the 2nd highest ministry expenditure, only exceeded by health. We have lived beyond our means. Problem is no one wants to accept any cut in services. Fools paradise!

  10. Dennis Fox says:

    I believe the editorial cartoon in The Times says it all!

  11. Chris Keen says:

    A $350 billion debt also does not cure itself without a transparent plan drawn up after consultation with those affected. The scattershot, ill-prepared, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method being used so far are ineffective. I am a firm believer in zero-based budgeting – but let’s do it right!!

  12. Fred says:

    A 350 Billion dollar debt doesn’t cure itself without some pain!

  13. Chris Keen says:

    I guess as long as there’s no flooding in Etobicoke North there’s no need for watershed management programs. That cost can be downloaded to the municipalities. And that, of course, is the whole point of this exercise. The province (i.e. we the taxpayers) will pay for the CA’s “core mandate” – whatever that is, municipalities (i.e. we the taxpayers) can pay for anything that falls outside this soon-to-be-defined area but is important to the environment.

    I’m surprised that anyone is “stunned” by this sort of announcement. That’s Ford and crew’s modus operandi – and Todd Smith has been marching in lockstep all along.

  14. Dennis Fox says:

    We have just experienced the hottest July on record, the water level is only now just beginning to recede in our Great Lakes, the Arctic has experienced fires for the first time ever – and our provincial government thinks it is a good idea to cut back on the conservation authorities! This government is out of touch. PEC is surrounded by the lake and has numerous environmentally sensitive areas – and Ford does this!? Todd Smith needs to know that this is one bad move, just like many others his government has made!

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