Province’s Say in Conservation Authority Operations Should Be Limited To What It Contributes in Funding

In the Case of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, We Are Talking No More Than Two to Four Per Cent

A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher           Doug Draper

Posted September 15th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

To Ontario Premier Doug Ford – How about adding more to the pot, if you want to have a say in how Conservation Authorities do business?

There is an old saying that goes like this; “If you want to play, you gotta pay.”

Some attribute the line to American novelist Stephen King, although I always tied it to Bruce Springsteen, who used it as far back as the 1970s to rev up audiences at his shows.

At the risk of insulting those two guys, I could hear a line like that coming out of the mouth of Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, because it does seem to have a bit of a free market ring to it, doesn’t it?

“If you want to play, you gotta pay,”

In other words;‘If you’re not going to put down more doe, it’s time to get up and go.’

Yes, that sure seems like something that a free-market fan like Doug Ford would say, and maybe he ought to apply it how much of a right the provincial government should have these days when it comes to telling Ontario’s Conservation Authorities, including the NPCA in Niagara, how to run its operations.

In this chart, from a recent Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority budget report, you can see how pathetically small the contribution from the provincial government (in blue) is to that of municipalities.

Given how little the Ontario government contributes in funding to Conservation Authorities across the province compared to municipalities – in the case of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, the amount has gone from 40 per cent and more of the NPCA’s overall budget up to the early 1990s when the David Peterson’s Liberals and Bob Rae’s NDP ran the provincial government, to a mere four per cent in 2018 when, for more than half the year, Ford’s government was in charge – perhaps the province shouldn’t be playing around that much with how Conservation Authorities handle their affairs at all.

And this year, we learn that the Ontario government’s contribution to the funding pie for at least the NPCA, if not the 35 other Conservation Authorities in the province, will dip to an all-time low for the past 60 or more years of 2.7 per cent of a budget totalling about $11 million.

More than half of the rest comes from Niagara’s regional government and Niagara’s 12 local municipalities, and from the City of Hamilton and Haldimand County – two neighbouring regions with lands that also fall within a sprawling Niagara watershed that the NPCA has jurisdiction over.

On these charts, from a recent NPCA budget report, watch the revenue the Conservation Authority from the provincial government (highlighted in blue) go from more than …. in 1971 to four per cent last year.

And what do the latest Ford cuts to the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities across the province mean for our environment?

Well, at a time when the world needs all hands on deck to address what growing numbers of experts agree is a climate emergency, Ford and and company have cut funding for flood management and for planting trees that help filter greenhouse gases like carbon out of the air, just to name a couple of examples.

Yet, just this August, and in spite of these cuts, Ford’s Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff Yurek, had the nerve to tell Conservation Authorities in a lettered they say “stunned” them, that the province wants them to start ‘winding down’ activities  that may fall outside of what he called their “core mandate” – whatever that now means in an age when Conservation Authorities have been picking up more of the slack as successive provincial governments have fallen back when it comes to restoring, protecting and preserving the natural features of our watersheds.

To rattle nerves even more, we learned that at least some of the activities Ford’s Minister wants would down, including maple syrup festivals, photography and wedding permits at Conservation Areas in Niagara and elsewhere, have become valuable revenue generators.

One of several green programs the Ford government cut over its past 14 months in power …. $4.7 million annually to plant trees, a program that the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities participated in. Fortunately, the federal government recently decided to take over funding this program when Ford and company cut it.

They are activities the NPCA and other Conservation Authorities host to make up for the growing shortfall in funding from the province, so that they can keep core programs and projects around conservation and environmental protection going, and so they don’t have to go cap in hand to the municipal taxpayers for more funds.

So how much right does Ford, through his environment minister, have telling Conservation Authorities how to run their operations when the province contributes so little to the funding pot.

“If you want to play, you gotta pay,” Mr. Premier, and Conservation Authorities and councillors for municipalities that pay the lion’s share across Ontario ought to stand firmly together in telling Ford and Yurek that.

If you want to have more of a say in what Conservation Authorities do in the area of protecting and preserving what is left of our province’s natural heritage, Mr. Premier, then get back in the funding game!

To read another recent news commentary Niagara At Large posted on this issue, click onhttps://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/09/09/ford-wields-axe-over-activities-conservation-authorities-host-to-fund-eco-programs/

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

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One response to “Province’s Say in Conservation Authority Operations Should Be Limited To What It Contributes in Funding

  1. To be honest, the words “If you want to play, you have to pay” terrify me because it screams “cash for access” and “cash for control”. He would, more or less, neuter the NPCA. Ford can write a cheque without blinking an eye. It is, after all, taxpayer’s money he plays with and that’s a well that never runs dry. In his universally acknowledged unscholarly opinion, our watershed, wetlands, forests and Greenbelt are nothing more than impediments for development. “Cash for ecosystems” is the gravy on his mashed potatoes. I can see his pool of saliva from here! Doug Ford is the antithesis to Greta Thunberg. To dangle a “pay to play” carrot is to court disaster.

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