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Conservation Authority 'blindsided and shocked' by government demand

'This is confusing and extremely disappointing'

A letter from the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks that asks conservation authorities to “wind down” activities the Minister suggests is outside their mandate, "blindsided and shocked" the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority.  

In a news release today, local CAO Brian Tayler says, "It doesn’t make sense for the Minister to tell conservation authorities to cut back on programs that the province doesn’t fund and the board has the authority to deliver.  We’ve been working for months with MECP staff to streamline changes in concert with the government’s goals. This letter flies in the face of that.” 

Last Friday the MECP Minister Jeff Yurek advised conservation authorities they should “refocus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to risk of natural hazards, conservation, and management of CA owned or controlled lands; drinking water source protection; protection of the Lake Simcoe watershed and other programs and services as prescribed by legislation”.

The province only provides funding for 13 per cent of NBMCA’s $3.7 million budget to help cover the costs of those programs says Tayler.

NBMCA’s 10 member municipalities have a say in local programming through their representatives on the Board of Directors whose members approve the budget and municipal levy.

"Water quality monitoring, integrated watershed management, stewardship, tree planting as well plan reviews, development and septic permits which provide important services for municipalities and residents in balancing human needs with the needs of the natural environment are funded through other means. “28 per cent of our 2019 budget is self-generated revenue, 14 per cent of the budget comes from grants and other revenue, 35 per cent comes from municipal levy approved by the board, and 10 per cent comes from surplus."

Tayler added the province is actually the smallest source of revenue and it already cut back its funding of natural hazard and flooding program by 50 per cent this past spring.

This letter begs some clarification,” added Tayler. “The flood forecasting and flood control initiatives we deliver are important to the people of the watershed. This spring’s flooding is the perfect example of why these programs are essential,” he said.

NBMCA’s 10 member municipalities include Bonfield, Callander, Calvin Twp, Chisholm Twp, East Ferris, Mattawa, Mattawan Twp, North Bay, Papineau-Cameron Twp, and Powassan. 

“This is confusing and extremely disappointing,” said Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario, the association which represents Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities.

“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.

Meanwhile, NBMCA communications officer Sue Buckle told BayToday, "We need to continue the process that’s underway with provincial staff to define what is 'core. '  For now, it’s business as usual for us and we are continuing to deliver our watershed management programs as is."

See related: Confusing situation': Province only provides 10% of Conservation Sudbury budget, but orders 'core mandate' focus

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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