Lennox questions conservation authority governance model

WELLINGTON NORTH – A resolution expressing support for area conservation authorities sparked discussion on their role and governance during the June 22 township council meeting here.

A resolution from Township of Puslinch on the agenda at the meeting expressed support for continuation of the programs of the Grand River Conservation Authority, Conservation Halton and the Hamilton Conservation Authority, both mandatory and non-mandatory.

The correspondence notes the authorities provide Puslinch with expert advice on the environmental impact of land use planning proposals and notes the township does not have staff with comparable expertise or experience.

It also points out the authorities provide programs to local residents including recreation, education, water quality monitoring, reduction of vegetation loss and soil erosion and preservation of species at risk.

Authorities also undertake restoration projections within the watershed “as well as protect life and property through a variety of measures,” the correspondence continues.

The Puslinch correspondence included resolutions from three other municipalities: Hastings, Sault St. Marie and Ajax by the Lake, two of which included more general support for the role of conservation authorities province-wide.

“I will always be in support of conservation authorities being looked after by the province which instituted them and should be looking after them,” said councillor Steve McCabe.

“I would suggest even more than they are (looking after them) and their funding should increase.”

McCabe continued, “We have three in our municipality and the levy for them keeps going up, but they do great things.

“I fear what would happen if the province didn’t get enough municipalities saying they support them and let the conservation authorities go or put the full funding onto the municipalities.”

Mayor Andy Lennox said, “I’m going to be a bit of contrarian.

“I have, through some of my professional activities, worked with some conservation authorities – and I’m not naming the ones that we deal with here locally – but they have been creating a mandate for themselves which is above and beyond the municipal mandate and the provincial mandate and one of my concerns with a blanket endorsement like this one is that I’m not sure, in those locations, that the governance model that we’ve been working with is the appropriate way.”

The mayor continued, “Those municipalities haven’t had the ability to say, ‘No, we’re not prepared to fund that.’ I too am totally in favour of conservation authorities particularly around their core services of flood control, managing the watershed and those types of things.

“I just worry a little bit about the likes of this resolution in that it seems very unqualified and I’m wondering if there aren’t opportunities to support conservation authorities, but maybe we can find a different governance package set up that could be better reflective of municipal needs.”

Lennox said, “I would suggest that would go right back to whatever board or conservation authority that you were tangling with. That’s not the staff of the conservation at all. It’s actually the board that puts forth the mandates for each conservation authority and I think yeah, the one conservation authority board that we sit on we’ve had to rein in a couple of things .

“I just wonder if sometimes we shouldn’t a have a more direct say in terms of are we prepared to fund, particularly those non-core items – those non mandatory mandates?”

He concluded, “I don’t know the mechanisms to do that. I just think if we start saying ‘Oh yeah we’ll fund this part of the non-core mandate and then maybe not that part’ … I think it’s on a very slippery slope for the province to say ‘Oh you’re funding it more than you have in the past, you can just keep funding it.”

A motion to receive the correspondence was carried with only Lennox opposed.