Conservation authorities told ‘wind down’ some operations

Image of Shawna O'Neill
By Shawna O'Neill
Conservation authorities told ‘wind down’ some operations
The Raisin Region Conservation Authority (RRCA). (Shawna O'Neill/Seaway News photo).

EASTERN ONTARIO – Local conservation authorities are reacting to a letter from provincial Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Jeff Yurek, that was published on Friday, Aug. 16 and can be found here.

In the letter, Yurek encouraged conservation authorities to “re-focus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to their core mandate,” stating that over the coming months, he will be reviewing relevant regulations that govern Ontario’s conservation authorities.

“I request that you review and consider your own conservation authority’s activities and begin preparations and planning to wind down those activities that fall outside the scope of your core mandate,” said Yurek in the letter.

Local South Nation Conservation Authority (SNC) told Seaway News that only one per cent of its operating budget (or $91,000) comes from provincial funding and that conservation authorities “are largely funded by municipalities, self-generated revenue, and fundraising.” SNC predicts that agreements will be put in place by the Ontario government between conservation authorities and municipalities for programs and services that are not prescribed by provincial legislation. The SNC regularly enters into agreements with municipalities to deliver essential programs.

“SNC manages 20,000 acres of community land, plants 120,000 trees each year, and collects environmental data that helps protect people and property,” added Bill Smirle, Chair of SNC’s Board of Directors. “We know the importance of working with our municipal partners to protect the environment and engage communities.”

The Raisin Region Conservation Authority (RRCA) said that the ‘core mandated’ activities discussed in the letter need to be better defined before any adjustment is made to services and programs.

“Core mandate activities, as specified in the recently amended Conservation Authorities Act, includes risks of natural hazards (e.g. flooding), conservation and management of conservation authority lands (e.g. Cooper Marsh Conservation Area) and drinking source water protection. Discussions were only beginning to take place to specify which programs and services fall under the core mandate activities. Asking conservation authorities to start winding down those activities is premature and unclear,” said Lisa Van De Ligt, RRCA Communications Specialist.

“Once those mandated programs are agreed upon by the Province and the conservation authorities, the conservation authorities would then begin negotiating the remaining non-mandatory program with their member municipalities,” she added.

Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario — the association which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities — said that this letter is “confusing and extremely disappointing” in a press release which can be found here.  There was no consultation with Conservation Ontario or provincial conservation authorities before the letter was circulated.

“I can only assume they are trying to avoid criticism about downloading conservation authorities’ programs and services to municipalities,” said Gavine. Conservation authorities’ provincial funding for natural hazards was reduced by 50 per cent in early 2019.

This cut, relating to flooding and erosion management, will see a loss of $80,000 for the RRCA specifically. The RRCA’s total operating budget for 2019 is $2, 437, 328.

“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,” added Gavine.

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