Ontario government urges winding down of conservation programs to conserve cash

Ontario government urges winding down of conservation programs to conserve cash
The cash-strapped Progressive Conservative government is hoping to conserve money by winding down some conservation programs.

“This is confusing and extremely disappointing,” said Kim Gavine, general manager of the association representing the province’s 36 conservation authorities that oversee watershed management and other ecological matters.

“We’ve been caught completely by surprise. 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,” Glavine said.

The changes were first reported Monday by the National Observer, an online news publication.

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek confirmed late Monday night that the letter had been sent to Conservation Ontario.

“Over the years, conservation authorities have expanded past their core mandate into activities such as zip-lining, maple syrup festivals and photography and wedding permits,” he said.

Yurek noted the Tories had signaled the changes in the More Homes, More Choice Act earlier this year, the legislation designed to make it easier to build new homes.

“Bringing conservation authorities back to their core mandate will allow municipalities to better manage conservation authority budgets and programs,” the minister said.

“The legislative changes we’ve made ensure conservation authorities focus on delivering core services and programs that protect communities from natural hazards and flooding while using taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively,” he said.

But Glavine said the move effectively downloads conservation programs and services to municipalities.

“It was a very pre-emptive move that disregards the process and relationship that conservation authorities and municipalities have together,” she said.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner criticized the Tories for being pennywise and pound foolish.

“This move by Ford is fiscally irresponsible,” said Schreiner.

“Going after conservation authorities when the risks of flooding is on the rise will lead to more infrastructure damage from extreme weather, costing us more in the long run,” he said.

Thanks mostly to a controversial accounting change, the Conservatives have ballooned the deficit to $10.3 billion this year from the previous Liberal government’s projected shortfall $6.7 billion in 2018-19.

Former finance minister Vic Fedeli, who was adamant about excluding the pension holdings even though it put the government in a more challenging fiscal position, has since been demoted to economic development minister.
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