Conservation authorities and Conservation Ontario are stunned by a letter that the Province circulated last week.
Conservation Ontario officials say the letter is recommending that conservation authorities start shutting down any programs not related to their ‘core mandate’ as described by the Province in the proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act earlier this year.
Conservation authorities (CAs) and their member municipalities received letters from Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), addressed to ‘whom it may concern’ on Friday evening (August 16) recommending that CAs start to wind down any programs not directly 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, in a media release.
Officials with the St. Clair Region COnservation Authority agreed with the sentiment released by Conservation Ontario.
“The SCRCA stands in support with Conservation Ontario and the other 35 Conservation Authorities throughout the province, and are equally “shocked” and “confused” by the letter received Friday evening by the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks,” SCRCA officials said on social media.
Linda McKinlay, chair of the Lower Thames Conservation Authority, added: “Should the negative directions outlined in the letter be carried out, they could represent one of the largest, single attack on local environmental programs in Ontario’s history.”
Conservation Ontario officials say conservation authorities provide a wide variety of watershed management programs in partnership with all levels of government.
These programs help to reduce or prevent the costly and devastating damages of flooding, protect water resources, help to reduce pollution from getting to the Great Lakes and support healthy watersheds.
“We’ve been caught completely by surprise,” Gavine added.
“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.”
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 Ontario officials say conservation authorities’ provincial funding for natural hazards was reduced by 50 percent 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.
“It was a very pre-emptive move that disregards the process and relationship that conservation authorities and municipalities have together.”