Premier Doug Ford and his Environment Minister Jeff Yurek are moving to shut down work Conservation Authorities in Niagara and across the province are doing to protect and preserve Ontario’ watersheds
“We’ve been caught completely by surprise. … 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. … I can only assume they are trying to avoid criticism about downloading conservation authorities’ programs and services to municipalities.” – Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario, the Association which represents the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and Ontario’s 35 other Conservation Authorities
A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted August 19th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Conservation Authorities across the province “are stunned” by a letter the province’s anti-environment Ford government circulated to them this August 19th, recommending that they shut down any conservation programs that are not related to their “core mandate,” says a statement circulated by their umbrella group, Conservation Ontario.
As the letter signed by Jeff Yurek, a Ford Tory MPP for the Riding of Elgin-Middlesex-London who seems to be making it his business to go down as one of the worst environment minister in Ontario history, circulated through social media, Niagara At Large began receiving email from residents in Niagara with messages like “this is beyond nuts” and “the public needs to be outraged.”
The statement from Conservation Ontario and its general manager, Kim Gavine, representing the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and 35 other Conservation Authorities across the province, said the letter from the Ford government was “confusing and extremely disappointing.”
“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. … I can only assume they are trying to avoid criticism about downloading conservation authorities’ programs and services to municipalities,”
Indeed, the Ford government has been in the process of taking another look at the Ontario Conservation Act, the crowning legislation for Conservation Authorities and their powers and areas of jurisdiction – a process that is apparently continuing – and it is not even clear what their “core mandate” is going to be at the end of the day.
Conservation Authorities, when they are functioning well, and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), with a new board of directors and new management, has just begun getting back into full swing after several years of controversy and chaos, play a number of vital roles in the watersheds they serve, from flood management, source and drinking water protection, and enforcing municipal tree protection bylaws, to watershed restoration, just to name a few.
They also serve as stewards of often large holdings of conservation areas in the regions where they operation. In Niagara, Ball’s Falls, the Wainfleet Bog, Binbrook, Long Beach, Chippawa Creek and the land that hosts the iconic Comfort Maple in Pelham are among the 42 conservation areas the NPCA is responsible for looking after.
Doug Ford, even before his Tory Party won the provincial election in June of last year, was caught on a video telling developers he would like to sell off “chunks” of Ontario’s protected and world-renown Greenbelt for them to build on.
Over the past year, he has escalated his war on conservation and environmental programs on behalf of his friends in the paving industry by slashing funding for flood management and tree planting, further cutting the budgets of the Ontario Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources, shutting down the Office of Ontario’s Environment Commissioner (an independent government watchdog for the environment), weakening the province’s Endangered Species Act, spending millions of dollars of our tax money fighting efforts by the federal government to put a price on carbon pollution that plays havoc with the climate, and on and on.
And now it is moving to compromise the ability of the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities across Ontario to function as protectors and stewards for our environment heritage.
For the sake of our future and that of our children and grandchildren, this war on our environment has got to stop.
Citizens across this province have got to stand up and let Ford and his MPPs, including right-to-life champion Sam Ooosterhoff in Niagara West, know that there time in power ends with the next provincial election.
One thing that Ontario residents who care about the quality of our environment can and should do now is work to make sure that federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer and his candidates – all part of the same partisan machine – do not get elected in this October’s federal elections.
Can you imagine how much more damage Ford and his provincial Tories will do to our environmental safeguards if they have their political pals in government at the federal level? We can kiss any hope for a healthy, green future goodbye.
Niagara At Large will have more to say about all of this later in the week, and we will be sure to post any further news or statements from significant others that come in. Stay tuned.
For now, here is the full text of the August 19th statement from Conservation Ontario –
Province Moves to Constrain Conservation Authority Programs and Services
NEWMARKET, Ontario – 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’ 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.
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 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.” 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 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.”
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