MVCA concerned with provincial stewardship, flood prevention cuts - May 2, 2019
BY DENNY SCOTT
While many have flagged the provincial government’s plan due to reduced funding for flood control and prevention projects, Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) General Manager Phil Beard says that the biggest change is the removal of stewardship projects from conservation authorities’ (CAs) primary responsibilities.
Beard explained that CAs are now to focus on natural hazard protection and management, which encompasses Maitland Conservation’s flood and erosion safety services; conservation and management of conservation authority land and drinking water source protection. That means that CAs can only levy member municipalities for those mandatory services and that the rest of the services it provides will only continue if municipalities decide to fund them.
Beard explained that the original founding of the conservation authorities was a partnership with a focus on projects like stewardship, so the move away from it was surprising.
“It’s change, that’s for sure,” he said. “The foundation for the CAs and province was a partnership. The government used to pay 85 per cent, but now it’s like three to five per cent, and the municipalities could rightfully ask if that’s a fair partnership.”
He said that, with municipal costs rising, the ability to tackle projects is already difficult, but now those challenges will be made significantly more difficult, especially with reduced funding to the municipalities in general.
“We’re all creatures of the province,” Beard said.
For an organization that has had the same level of provincial funding for more than 20 years, the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority is already running a fairly bare-bones operation, Beard said, and he’s concerned that may get worse.
Drinking Water Source Protection, for example, was funded 100 per cent by the province, and cost the MVCA $200,000 to $300,000. Beard said he isn’t sure if the province will continue to fund that initiative under the new government.
Beard feels that the changes are a reaction to the CAs in larger city centres, pointing to the difference between CAs in Toronto and places like Huron County.
“Toronto’s [conservation authority] budget is over $125 million with 18 programs,” he said. “Our budget is $3 million.”
Beard said he feels, based on information provided by Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Rod Phillips and Huron-Bruce MPP, Lisa Thompson, that these changes are aimed at reducing the cost of the urban CAs, but the rural and northern CAs are being hurt by those changes.
Thompson and Phillips provided that information during a meeting with local CAs several months ago, Beard said, and he and fellow CA representatives felt they were on the right path.
“After our meeting with the MPPs, we felt we were fitting our mandate and what we were doing was important,” he said. “The fact that stewardship is not mandatory is surprising.”
Beard also didn’t want the reduction in flood prevention funding discounted, saying that the authority previously received $70,556 for flood prevention and will now receive $36,464, which will make budgetting difficult.
When asked if any of the changes made were beneficial from the MVCA’s point of view, Beard said that there wasn’t much.
“We can put stop-work orders out when people aren’t following the rules,” he said. “But we’ve only had two court cases in 30 years, so that’s not a big deal.”
In an interview with The Citizen last Friday, Thompson said that she would put Huron-Bruce first and forward the concerns of the CAs and residents to Phillips.
“As the local MPP for Huron-Bruce, I’m proud for the type of example the MVCA sets,” she said. “We have good conservation authorities in Huron-Bruce, and I’m going to be willing to take their voice back to Minister Philips.”
Thompson said that any current stewardship commitments will be honoured, but that the cuts and changes to the CAs was a way of streamlining their role.
“As far as stewardship goes, I want to clarify, we’re all on the same page,” she said. “The conservation authorities play a very important role.”
Thompson also said that the cuts to funding revolving around flood issues may still change as a result of the comment period following the budget announcement.
“Premier [Doug] Ford is in Ottawa this morning,” she said on Friday. “He is experiencing, first-hand what those communities are facing with floods and how they create crises.”
She said the awareness for the need for flood prevention and awareness is being heightened as a result of natural disasters.