Staff and industry stakeholders are shocked by recent government directions
In midsummer, “conservation authorities (CA) and Conservation Ontario (were) stunned” by a letter from Jeff Yurek, minister of the environment, conservation and parks, Conservation Ontario said in a Aug. 19 press release.
CAs are required by the Conservation Authorities Act to “re-focus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to their core mandate,” Yurek said in his Aug. 16 letter.
“In the meantime, 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,” he said.
“Finally, I ask that, while we are undergoing this review and updating the legislation and regulations, you do not proceed with any increases to your fees or levies.”
Whereas CAs might have sought to increase charges to cover shortfalls caused by budget cuts that the government made in the spring, Yurek indicated this approach was inadvisable.
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Conservation Ontario representatives were more than disappointed by the news; they were stunned.
“It was a very pre-emptive move that disregards the process and relationship that conservation authorities and municipalities have together,” said Kim Gavine, general manager of Conservation Ontario, in the release.
Ian Wilcox, general manager of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, was also “frustrated and confused” by the move.
“The programs that are most publicly supported, including work with farm communities – such as tree-planting programs – are considered non-mandatory,” he said.
But “these (programs) are the reasons why the CAs were formed in the first place,” Wilcox said. “We have just been told to stop doing them.”
“There are changes and there are issues,” Clarence Nywening, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, told Better Farming. “But we don’t have to get rid of all of the Conservation Authority powers to fix them, unless we’ve got something on board that will make sure that we are protected.”
The province now has a gap in environmental oversight, possibly placing our health and watersheds at risk, he said.
Better Farming contacted Yurek’s office but did not receive a response before this article was submitted for publication. BF