Province directs conservation authorities to 'wind down' programming

The Ford government is suggesting provincial conservation authorities “wind down” on non-priority services and refrain from fee increases while it reviews legislative changes.

Water quality monitoring, tree planting and woodlot management programs may be at risk

The letter from the ministry was sent on Friday. (Upper Thames Conservation Authority/Twitter)

The Ford government is suggesting provincial conservation authorities "wind down" on services and refrain from fee increases while it reviews legislative changes.

Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek outlined the request in a letter sent to Ontario's 36 conservation authorities (CA`s) and their member municipalities on Friday. According to Conservation Ontario, the province's conservation authorities own 150, 000 acres of land in Ontario and operate more than 500 conservation areas. 

"Is this another government that is going to ignore climate change and leave it for future generations to pick up the pieces?" asked Upper Thames Conservation Authority General Manager Ian Wilcox in a news release issued Monday. 

The head of the Upper Thames Conservation Authority (UTRCA) says the "shocking" letter creates uncertainty around future programming. 

The letter suggest CA's continue with priority programming, such as flood control and drinking water source protection. Wilcox is waiting further clarification, but thinks other programs like trail development could be cut. 

Lack of communication

Wilcox also questioned the provincial government's authority to make the request, given it funds less than one per cent of UTRCA`s programs.

The majority of funding comes from municipalities, special contracts, user fees and support from the public and private sector.

"The Province has not consulted with the watershed municipalities that oversee the Conservation Authority and provide 30% of our funding. Our municipal representatives bring the priorities of their watershed communities to the table, to ensure our programs are responsive to local needs," he said.

In a separate release, Conservation Ontario's General Manager Kim Gavine called the request "confusing and extremely disappointing."

"We've been caught completely by surprise," she said.

The province made changes to the Conservation Authorities act back in June to "improve public transparency, consistency and accountability in conservation authority operations." 

The changes are meant to grant member municipalities greater control over CA budgets.

The ministry said it will continue to review relevant legislation.