On Friday, August 16th, Ontario's conservation authorities received a letter from the province's Environment Minister creating confusion and prompting a response from Conservation Ontario.
Minister Jeff Yurek's letter directed conservation authorities to "re-focus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to their core mandate."
The letter outlines the core mandate as such:
- Risk of natural hazards;
- Conservation and management of CA owned or controlled lands;
- Drinking water source protection;
- Protection of the Watershed;
- Other programs or services, as prescribed by regulation.
Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario, which represents the province's 36 conservation authorities, released an open letter in response to Yurek.
"This is confusing and extremely disappointing," she said in the letter and that they have been "working for months in good faith," with the Ford government.
She further explained her organization's issues on Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on 570 NEWS.
"What we have yet to see from the province is the regulations that will define what those programs and services are. So it's difficult to wind down non-core programs when we don't even know what those non-core programs are."
"Let's take tree planting for instance. Will tree planting be a core program or will a non core program? What about water quality monitoring? Is that a core program or a non-core program? We just want to make sure that there are activities that may fall under non-core that can still be supported if it's absolutely essential."
She also points out that the province provides "no more than eight per cent in total to the overall conservation authorities budget" with most of it going to flood management and source water protection programs. Earlier this year, the Ford government slashed the budget for those programs by nearly 50 per cent. The rest of their budget comes from negotiating programs and services with municipality members.
"There are activities that we do that generate revenue that help offset the cost for some of those core programs, so some people will look at some of those activities such as festivals and things like that which we run, which they may question, but I would say no, we're not working outside of our core mandate."
Gavine says conservation authorities are willing to work with the province in finding efficiencies and have been since their funding was cut, but the province should be consulting them rather than blindside them in this manner.
According to her, they are in talks with Yurek's office and will be holding future consultation on which services and programs the province considered "outside of their mandate."
570 NEWS has reached out to Yurek's office for comment.
In a statement to 570 NEWS, the Grand River Conservation Authority say they will be tabling the letter at a board meeting Friday, August 23. They say they "won't have a full sense of the impact these changes may have on our organization" until they review it with the ministry and board members.
The full GRCA statement can be read below:
On Friday morning we will be tabling the letter received from the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks with our board for discussion and further guidance from our municipal representatives.
We look forward to working with ministry staff to discuss prospective legislative and regulatory changes in the coming months.
Until we've had a chance to review this with our board and work with ministry staff, we won't have a full sense of the impact these changes may have on our organization.