April 20, 2019 10:43 am
Updated: April 23, 2019 10:35 am

Ontario government cuts conservation authority funding for flood programs

The Thames River continues to breech its banks in Harris Park as the elevated water levels make they way down river in London, Ont. on April 17, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart
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TORONTO – Ontario conservation authorities say the provincial government has cut their funding for flood management programs in half.

Conservation Ontario, which represents the province’s 36 conservation authorities, said impacts of the cuts will be felt immediately, particularly in smaller and more rural areas.

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“Cutting natural hazards funding is particularly problematic right now in light of the fact that – like everywhere else – Ontario is experiencing stronger and more frequent flood events as a result of climate change impacts,” general manager Kim Gavine said in a statement.

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“Using a watershed-based approach, conservation authorities deliver effective and cost efficient flood management programs across the province, partnering for many years with the province, municipalities and others.”

Ontario had given $7.4 million to the conservation authorities for that work, but they say that has now been reduced by 50 per cent.

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Conservation authorities forecast flooding and issue warnings, monitor stream flow, regulate development activities in flood plains, educate the public about flooding and protect natural cover that helps reduce the impacts of flooding.

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Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski said the government is trying to eliminate the deficit – currently at $11.7 billion – and has asked conservation authorities to focus on their core mandate.

“Flood control is part of that core mandate and we’ve asked them to focus on that,” he said.

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“Across the province we average less than 10 per cent of conservation authorities’ funding. In fact, some of them are as low as 2.5 per cent provincial funding. And we’ve heard from different conservation authorities across the province that have said that this will not affect their ability to deal with flood management.”

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Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said it’s short-sighted, when a flood on one day in August last year in Toronto cost $80 million in insurable losses.

“I don’t think there’s any way to reconcile saying, ‘Focus on your core mandate and then we’re going to cut your core mandate in half,’ especially at a moment in time when we know the intensity of storms is going up, the risk of flooding is going up, the costs associated with that are going up,” he said.

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The chief administrative officer of Quinte Conservation said his organization has relied on the province’s transfer payment to fund essential flood programs throughout its 6,000 square-kilometre watershed.

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“The government has been very clear about its goal to reduce costs, but a 50-per-cent reduction in payments that support government mandated responsibilities will have a significant impact on how we can deliver our programs and services,” Brad McNevin said in a statement.

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