Editorial: Time to stop cutting conservation funds

It’s frustrating to watch as a provincial government that’s doing its best to do nothing at all about climate change  continues to withdraw support from conservation authorities, which are charged (by the province no less) with leading local efforts to adapt to new environmental realities.

Provincial funding for conservation authorities across Ontario was cut heavily under Mike Harris’ Conservative government in the mid-‘90s and was not substantially restored during the ensuing 15 years of Liberal rule.

Since that time, authorities, particularly smaller operations like the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) have been busy “prioritizing” their responsibilities in an effort to focus on those involving public safety and protection of property.

Earlier this month, the MVCA sent a letter to municipalities explaining the need for a $92,132 levy increase across the watershed, despite measures like holding the line on salaries and shifting watershed stewardship staff over to project funding in an effort to balance the budget.

The levy increase includes $34,132 that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) eliminated from MVCA’s Flood and Erosion Safety transfer payment in 2019. So far, authorities have received no indication from the MNRF as to whether they will or will not provide any funding for flood and erosion safety in 2020.

The MVCA indicates the authority members have decided that it would be inappropriate to reduce the budget for flood and erosion safety “because there are so many municipalities in the watershed that have development and people living and working in areas that are at risk of flooding and or erosion.”

The issue is particularly vital in areas like Minto and Mapleton, where massive damaging floods in Harriston and Drayton respectively are fresh in the minds of both residents and local municipal officials.

The irony is, provincial officials should be well aware that it’s almost always cheaper, and always less traumatic, to adequately fund programs to prevent disasters than to cough up compensation dollars when they inevitably occur.

Spending cuts are an easy thing to promise on a campaign trail, but a lot harder to deliver safely and responsibility when the reality of governing sets in.

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North Wellington Community News