A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted April 17th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
On top of other deep cuts to Ontario’s environmental protection programs, the Ford government has also taken an axe to the funding the province transfers to Conservation Authorities for protecting people and their properties from climate-related hazards like flooding.
At a meeting of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors this April 17th, Gayle Wood, the NPCA’s Interim CAO, told board members that concerns that last April 11th’s provincial budget would mean significant cuts in funding from the province to Conservation Authorities across Ontario have been confirmed.
Wood said annual funds the province transfers to the NPCA will be cut from about $174,000 to $90,000 – almost half of the money the province gives to the Conservation Authority each year for core services like flood management.
The cut may not be much of a blow to the NPCA’s budget this year, she said, because some money is being saved “due to a number of (recent) staffing gaps,” but next year they could prove “extremely challenging.”
Among other responsibilities, Conservation Authorities across the province (there are 36 of them in all) play a lead role in flood-plain mapping and flood management in watersheds across the regions they serve.
Flood management has become an ever more critical responsibility in an era of climate change, where storms, with a potential to risk lives and cause costly damage to property, are becoming more frequent and severe.
Conservation Ontario, the non-profit umbrella organization for the NPCA and 35 other Conservation Authorities across the province, issued a statement in the hours following the Fort government’s tabling of its budget on April 11th, warning that it had not yet received a status report on what it described as “important provincial transfer payments that ensure safe drinking water, protect people and reduce costly damages from flooding, and help Ontario to adapt to climate change impacts such as threatened water quality.”
By this past weekend, word that the province’s transfer payments to the Conservation Authorities will be cut in half, effective immediately, had been confirmed.
“The impacts of these reductions will vary from CA to CA. However, they will all be felt immediately, particularly in smaller and more rural conservation authorities.” said Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario in a recent media release.
The Conservation Authority media release goes on to note that the provincial funding in question has helped cover the cost of a number of responsibilities around flood management that include (as worded in the release):
- · Forecast flooding and issue warnings · Monitor stream flow, rainfall and snow packs
- · Floodplain mapping · Manage and operate $2.7 billion in flood infrastructure such as dams and dykes
- · Provide planning support and advice to the Province, municipalities and the federal government to minimize flood impacts
- · Regulate development activities in floodplains · Contribute to municipal emergency planning and preparedness activities as well as recovery activities · Inform and educate the public about flooding
- · Protect, restore and rehabilitate natural cover that contributes to reducing the impacts of flooding.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has jurisdiction over a watershed with head waters beginning in the east ends of Hamilton and Haldimand County, and flowing through the Niagara region.
Niagara, along with Hamilton and Haldimand, cover the bulk of the NPCA’s annual budget – now totaling about $11 million – through municipal taxes.
Brenda Johnson, a Hamilton city councillor and member of the NPCA board, received board approval for a motion she tabled this April 17th to send letters to all the councils for all three municipal jurisdictions, informing them of the latest cuts from the province.
If municipal leaders and others cannot somehow talk the Ford government into reversing the cut, the costs for keeping these flood-related programs intact will be downloaded to the municipalities.
Wood told the board that in the earlier history of Conservation Authorities in Ontario – in the 1950s, 60s and 70s – provincial governments covered about half the cost of the agencies’ total budgets.
One of the larger cuts from the province came in 1996, when the then Conservative government of Mike Harris eliminated funding to Conservation Authorities for capital projects completely.
And now this – down from $174,000 in provincial funding annually to $90,000 for something as important as flood management.
Ontarians who care about protecting the quality of our water, and air and green spaces – and this journalist at Niagara At Large believes from what I hear and read and the feedback I get from people in the community that a good many of them do – also learned in the hours and days following the disclosure of the Ford budget that at least 17 per cent has been slashed from the overall budget of an already financially emaciated Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
All of this while the Ford government has started spending yet-to-be-disclosed amounts of provincial tax dollars on court actions and public relations material, including ads on radio, fighting what it calls a “federal carbon tax,” which is an effort by the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau (who Premier Doug Ford and partisan allies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the federal parliament have already made it known they want to defeat in this coming fall’s federal elections) to put a price on climate –altering carbon emissions as one more way to reduce them.
Niagara At Large will have more on the cuts the Ford government is making to environmental programs in the province in the days leading up to and following the April 22nd anniversary of Earth Day.
We will also have more news and commentary on the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, including changes the Ford government has recently threatened to make to the legislation governing Conservation Authorities in Ontario.
From what we have seen of the Ford government’s record on environmental issues so far, I would say that there is real cause to be concerned about any changes this government will make to an important agency like the NPCA, which has already been through enough bad times over the past six or so years, and is just beginning to get back on track.
To read the recent media release from Conservation Ontario, click on – https://conservationontario.ca/fileadmin/pdf/latest-news/Media_Release_Natural_Hazards_CA_Transfer_Payment_Reduction_Media_Release_April_2019.pdf
If you would like to watch all or part of the Wednesday, April 17th, 2019 meeting of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s Board of Directors, click on the screen below –
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