Brace Yourselves People! Ontario’s Ford Government now has its sights set on “Improving” the province’s Conservation Authorities

Just When Some of Us Thought Our Long, Dark Journey with a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in Chaos Might Finally be Over

A  News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted April 5th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

Opening Ontario’s Conservation Authorities up for reform. What does this man have in mind for our Conservation Authority?

Just as some of us thought we have turned a corner for the better at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority NPCA) with the appointment of a new acting CAO many have respect for, we have the following to look forward to.

Ontario’s Ford government, which isn’t exactly proving to be a friend of environmental conservation, has circulated a news release this April 5th that it is now going to work on plans to reform the legislation governing the NPCA and more than 30 other Conservation Authorities across the province.

So what on earth is that going to mean for Conservation Authorities we need to restore, protect and restore our region’s precious watershed?

The NPCA’s recently appointed interim CAO Gayle Wood, a respected conservationist, has given many Niagara citizens hope that the Conservation Authority will get back to playing a real role in  protecting and preserving our region’s natural heritage.

All I advise at the moment is that those of us in this region and others who care about environmental conservation and who have fought so hard in recent years to rescue our dysfunctional NPCA from a group of hijackers and get it back on track, had better get engaged and be ready to raise our voices loudly if the Ford government does anything to further weaken or damage these bodies.

That is not to say there aren’t changes the Ford government could make to the province’s Conservation Authorities Act that would make bodies like the NPCA operate in ways that are more effective, open and accountable.

The government could start by making at least one to the act that the former Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne failed to – provide the government with the powers to appoint a special supervisor to take over the operations of a Conservation Authority if necessary, just as it has had the powers for years to appoint supervisors to run other agencies like hospital boards and the Niagara Parks Commission, if they are believed to be in a state of crisis at the administrative level.

Second, the government could set the same requirement for Conservation Authorities that is there for other public agencies and institutions across Ontario and make it mandatory for them to identify all those earning salaries of $100,000 or more per year for inclusion on the province’s annual “Sunshine List.”

David Barrick, who was the NPCA’s “acting CAO” until he and the agency parted ways this past February with a “mutual separation agreement,” told the Region’s Council earlier on that  current provincial legislation does not require the Conservation Authority to provide the council with a great deal of detail on how it  spends millions of  tax dollars it receives from the Region.

A number of Conservation Authorities in other regions of the province decided to submit information to the Sunshine List anyway. But earlier this year, when Niagara Region’s Chair, Jim Bradley, asked the NPCA’s now departed acting CAO, David Barrick; “Why wouldn’t you publish them (the names of employees with six-digit salaries) anyway, just to have our own sunshine in the Niagara region,” Barrick replied that under the current legislation, the Conservation Authority doesn’t have to.

“The public will be frustrated with that answer,” Bradley said.

The Ford government should also reform the legislation to ensure that the Conservation Authority is just as accountable as other boards and agencies, including police and affordable housing, are when it comes to answering to municipal councils for how it spends money it receives from municipal coffers.

Indeed, at the same Regional Council meeting this winter where Barrick told Bradley and his councillors that the NPCA was not required to participate in the Sunshine List, he told them that the Conservation Authority was not required to provide detailed answers to questions about how it spends the millions of municipal dollars it receives from municipalities each year  either.

So as much as the NPCA’s recently appointed interim CAO Gayle Wood promises to make the body far more open and accountable than it has been in recent years (and I have no reason not to believe her) at least some reform is certainly in store.

What we have to watch for is any move by this provincial government to change the Conservation Authorities Act and any other legislation Conservations work with, like the province’s Clean Water Act, in ways that could weaken them.

Those of us who care about environmental protection and conservation need to do everything we can as citizens to make sure the Ford government does nothing to compromise Conservation Authorities’ ability to restore, protect and preserve what is left of our natural heritage for present and future generations.

Niagara At Large will be closely watching what unfolds here and so should all of you.

Now here is the news release that the Ford government circulated late this Friday afternoon which, by the way, is a time of the week that governments sometimes choose to release information they hope few people will notice or pay any attention to  –

Improving Ontario’s Conservation Authorities

April 5, 2019

Consultation to Focus on Increasing Transparency, Improving Delivery of Core Mandate Ontario’s government is working for the people to ensure conservation authorities focus and deliver on their core mandate of protecting people, property and natural resources from the threats and impacts of extreme weather and flooding.

“Conservation authorities help protect our people and their property from extreme weather, preserving sources of drinking water and conserving our province’s natural resources,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

One of the provincially significant wetlands in the Niagara watershed of the Great Lakes, inside Niagara Falls’ Thundering Water Forest. Will reforms Ontario’s Ford government make to conservation and environmental legislation strengthen or weaken our ability to protect and preserve places like this?

“The people of Ontario need our conservation authorities to be focused on dealing with the impacts of climate change and we must be certain that resources are being directed to programs and services that have the greatest impact on our communities while ensuring effective use of public funding.”

As committed to in its Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan <https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan>, the province is consulting stakeholders and the public <https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/013-5018> to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used effectively, and as extreme weather, particularly flooding, becomes more frequent due to climate change, that conservation authorities remain focused on their core mandate.

“Our government is putting people first to help communities and families prepare and respond to climate change,” said John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

“Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our regulations is a critical component of our government’s strategy for strengthening Ontario’s resiliency to extreme weather events.

Ontario is also looking at updates to the Conservation Authorities Act, an act introduced in 1946, to improve public transparency and consistency:

  • * update how conservation authorities use municipal levies to pay for programs and services;
  • * streamline and standardize the role conservation authorities play in permitting and municipal planning, reducing overlap and making approvals faster and less costly; and
  • * improve conservation authorities’ governance and accountability.

These recommended changes are part of Ontario’s commitment to support conservation and environmental planning and improve Ontario’s resilience to climate change.

QUICK FACTS

  • * Ontario has 36 conservation authorities – 31 in Southern Ontario and five in populated areas in Northern Ontario. Over 90 per cent of Ontarians live within the jurisdiction of a conservation authority.
  • * Conservation authorities undertake a wide range of local resource management programs and services, with significant programming diversity amongst conservation authorities. They have a legal mandate to take action to protect sources of drinking water.
  • * Losses associated with flooding and other natural hazards in Ontario are lower than those experienced in other jurisdictions due to Ontario’s prevention-first approach, achieved in part through the planning and regulatory approaches delivered by conservation authorities.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For a story Niagara At Large posted this past February on the NPCA’s former acting CAO, David Barrick, appearing before Niagara Regional Council where he provided few answers to questions about how the Conservation Authority was spending our municipal taxdollars, click  on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/02/01/when-it-comes-to-the-npcas-budget-niagaras-regional-government-gets-to-pay/

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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2 responses to “Brace Yourselves People! Ontario’s Ford Government now has its sights set on “Improving” the province’s Conservation Authorities

  1. Gary Screaton Page

    How like Donald Trump is our Doug Ford! Thinks he knows more than anyone: even the experts. No climate change; centralize even more hospital care — which is mucked up enough now after the last changes. I know. Been there; seen the mess; lived through it but almost didn’t.
    He’s messed up the school system and had to do some backtracking. Set the class size struggle back 50 years or more! I remember class sizes of 42 in reality and the dramatic difference smaller class sizes made. Not necessarily being well educated himself, but off to his good start because Dad had money, perhaps Mr. Ford doesn’t fully understand the impact his changes have already had on our schools.
    How did we get here? Dough Ford is the living proof that voting on personality and not substance is a dismal failure. Just look south of the border for proof!
    Perhaps by the next election, Ontarians will have smartened up!

    Like

  2. As a person who communicates with the NPCA, they are more forthcoming and transparent. The suggestions made by the government sound good. But as there is no reason to trust ford, I will believe it when It becomes reality. There also might be provisions detrimental to the environment when all is said and done. Who knows?

    Like

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