It’s now seeming like our current provincial government’s conversion from bluster-based to science-based decision making may have been a bit of a mirage.
Through the opening months of the ongoing pandemic, it did appear, as Premier Doug Ford repeatedly assured us, they were following the advice of the experts as they announced and lifted lockdown measures on various sectors of the populace and the economy.
Then we learned the new colour-coded COVID-19 restriction guidelines were created with little more than lip service to the input of the health professionals in the decision-making loop – an error the government was forced to backpedal on before the rainbow connection system was a week old.
Now we’re seeing the province once again appearing to sideline the scientists with provisions announced Nov. 5 in the proposed 2021 budget that have conservation authorities concerned they will lose their ability to protect the natural environment, as well as public health and safety.
The proposed changes would give more authority to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry on planning issues and remove the ability of conservation authorities to challenge planning decisions at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
Conservation authorities in Ontario have the front-line personnel to provide a local view of the impact of planning decisions, and their input on developments that impact their watershed is vital, not only to ensure environmental sustainability, but to provide perspective in relation to potential flooding concerns.
Conservation Ontario general manager Kim Gavine in a statement released after the budget noted some of the changes that have been made to the planning role for conservation authorities in the budget could actually put more people at risk, rather than protect them from natural hazards.
“One of our main goals throughout this review has been to maintain the conservation authorities’ watershed-based approach to protecting people from natural hazards and ensuring the conservation of Ontario’s natural resources. Some of the changes will impact the CAs’ ability to do so,” Gavine said.
During a CBC Radio interview on Nov. 16, Gavine also noted that, while there were consultations held on the proposed changes, some of the measures that ended up in the budget went far beyond what had been discussed.
Beginning in the Mike Harris era, successive provincial governments of all stripes have whittled away at the provincial component of conservation authority funding to the point there’s almost nothing left. Today, authorities find their revenue in a levy to local municipalities and various user fees, or they simply cut services when there are no funds to be found.
To continue the hollowing out of these essential agencies by limiting their ability to monitor development within their watersheds seems at least unwise, at worst downright dangerous, at a time when record flooding events have become almost routine.