Conservation Matters: Continue the Conversation
Thank you to the 16,600 members of our community (and counting) that emailed their MPP to tell them that conservation matters. We’ve heard that many of you have received the same canned response from the provincial government when you email asking them about the changes to the Conservation Authorities Act. We’re sharing helpful responses that you can use to continue the conversation with your provincial representative.
Assertion # 1: We received feedback from conservation authorities and a diverse group of stakeholders, including municipalities, the agricultural and development sectors, environmental and conservation organizations, and landowners, on the appropriate role for conservation authorities. Through these consultations we heard concerns that some conservation authorities have expanded their programs and services beyond their core mandate.
Response to continue the conversation: Credit Valley Conservation along with other conservation authorities attended stakeholder sessions earlier this year. While there were factions present that were clearly seeking major changes to conservation authorities, the majority of participants at our tables were seeking only minor improvements
Please provide the analysis of the nature of comments received through the in-person consultations and questionnaire to support claims that the kinds of changes now proposed were supported by the consultation
The consultations did not broach the topic of, or consult specifically on the wording of, proposed legislative amendments. The impacts of proposed changes were not discussed.
Assertion # 2: The scope of conservation authorities’ activities has expanded over time.
Response to continue the conversation: Other than comments made about conservation authorities operating recreational facilities and events, like maple syrup festivals, wedding photography and ziplining, the Province has not provided any other examples of expanded activities.
Please provide specifics about the scope of activities that conservation authorities have expanded into.
Assertion # 3: Some participating municipalities of a conservation authority have expressed concern about the increases to their municipal levies that they are required to pay under the Conservation Authorities Act to finance their respective conservation authorities.
Response to continue the conversation: This assertion raises more questions than it answers.
How many municipalities have expressed this concern? How many have appealed their levy?
Have municipalities also expressed concern to the Province that they have to keep paying more as the province has not provided inflationary increases to the CA transfer payment since 1996?
Or, have municipalities expressed concern that the province cut what was left of the transfer payment in half in 2019 and the municipalities are on the hook for more of the conservation authority budget?
Do the municipalities know that by adding source protection to the mandatory programs of a conservation authority that this will now be added to their levy resulting in a substantial increase?
The province provides approximately $3.5 million to 36 conservation authorities. That’s about $100,000 per authority and it can only be used for hazard management related staffing and functions.
Assertion # 4: Some participating municipalities of a conservation authority have expressed concern about the lack of direct control that participating municipalities may have over conservation authority budgets.
Response to continue the conversation: Municipalities sit on the board of the conservation authority where the budget is presented each year for endorsement/approval before the levy is set and then sent to the respective municipality. Is the Province concerned because of the conservation authority budget quantum or that their peers out voted them on the board? This is one of the roles of the board – oversight and approval of the conservation authority budget.
Assertion # 5: The changes to the Conservation Authorities Act would improve the governance, oversight and accountability of conservation authorities.
Response to continue the conversation: Conservation authorities support transparency, oversight and consistency and have made great strides in this area over the past decade, some in response to the Conservation Authority Liaison Committee around 2008 and more recently through Bill 139. Adequate resourcing of conservation authorities by the province would ensure that there was an ability for all conservation authorities to meet certain standards.
The Province is proposing to improve governance by dictating the composition of the board and directing them not to consider the best interests of the organization in their role on the board. This is not good governance – in anyone’s playbook – including the Ontario Ministry of Government Services and the Auditor General who recently reviewed the activities of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. To have organizational accountability, there must be organizational oversight, which is the role of the board.
Assertion # 6: Many conservation authorities provide valuable recreational and educational programs and services that are important to the local community, such as camping and outdoor education. These programs would continue, so long as they are funded through self-generated revenue or have support from the local municipality that funds them.
Response to continue the conversation: Did you know that these programs are primarily funded through special levy or self-generated revenue? In fact, some conservation authorities use these self-generated funds to support mandatory programs because the levy and transfer payment does not cover it?
Did you know that conservation authorities own and operate 500 conservation areas which provide popular recreational opportunities – important for mental and physical health benefits and support local tourism. As well, conservation areas act as living classrooms for approximately 3,000 schools and almost 400,000 students each year. Is that not worth a little bit of municipal support?
Let’s keep the conversation going to remove Schedule 6 from Bill 229. Together, our voices can make a difference.
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