Many have been speaking out about the Ontario government’s recent funding cuts to the flood management programs of local conservation authorities after Premier Doug Ford posted on Twitter as several communities declared states of emergency due to flooding.
According to Conservation Ontario, funding has been cut in half for conservation authority programs that warn people about flooding and protect property from costly damages as part of this year’s Ontario budget.
“Ontario is well positioned to respond to the ongoing flooding in our communities, and we have supplies strategically located across the province to aid any municipality across the province that requests assistance,” said John Yakabuski, Ontario minister of natural resources and forestry, in a statement Thursday.
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On average, provincial funding accounts for less than 10 per cent of a conservation authority’s overall budget, the statement read, adding: “This reduction will not interfere with the core programs that conservation authorities are mandated to provide and Ontarians depend on.”
According to Conservation Ontario’s website, the typical breakdown of funding for conservation authorities is as follows:
- Municipal levies: 53 per cent
- Self-generated revenue: 35 per cent
- Provincial grants and special projects: eight per cent
- Federal grants or contracts: four per cent
These numbers are from before the provincial funding cuts.
According to Conservation Ontario, the provincial amount reported on the website reflects all the provincial transfer payments that conservation authorities receive, including source protection programs and project funding, such as the Great Lakes projects.
Until the recent budget, the amount of funding conservation authorities received for flood operations totalled $7.4 million; this figure was cut by 50 per cent.
Before the cuts, the funding received from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for flood operations was five per cent of conservation authorities’ total budgets, according to Conservation Ontario. That means that after the cuts, on average, the funding for flood operations makes up 2.5 per cent of their total budgets.
“It’s the smaller, rural and northern conservation authorities that will feel this cut the heaviest because the provincial funding is a greater per cent of their overall budget,” Bonnie Fox, Conservation Ontario’s policy and planning manager, told Global News.
All 36 conservation authorities received a letter indicating what the cuts were to their programs, she added.
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How will Ontarians be affected?
According to Fox and Blair Feltmate, the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, it’s too early to see the effects that funding cuts will have on conservation authorities in the wake of recent flooding.
“The Conservation Authority general manager will need to sit down with the board of directors and talk about the funding cut and how they’re going to deal with it financially,” Fox said.
According to Conservation Ontario, the conservation authorities have a number of responsibilities around flood management in the province, including forecasting flooding, floodplain mapping and providing support to the provincial, municipal and federal governments to minimize the influence of floods.
“What we’ve heard is that there could be loss of staff, loss or reduction of other programs that they deliver so they’d take the money from other programs to put it into the flood program. They’re talking about reduction of technical studies,” Fox said. “Some of them have talked about dipping into their (budget) reserve, which is not a sustainable thing to (do).”
Feltmate told Global News that a section in the provincial government’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan focuses on flood risk mitigation efforts to educate homeowners.
“That’s an area of commitment and focus for this government that wasn’t engaged by the last government,” he said.
There may be areas that the conservation authorities have been covering with regards to outreach to homeowners, Feltmate added, which will now be picked up by the Ministry of Environment.
What can be done?
“If I were (the conservation authorities), I would be engaging outreach to industry sectors, individual corporations, foundations, to try and make up for or compensate for the money that has been lost relative to support from the government,” Feltmate said.
According to Fox, municipalities tend to pick up the shortfalls in provincial funding, but it’s more difficult to find funding through donations for the core programs when the public feels like they’ve already paid for them through taxes.
“Typically, we do have foundations and we receive donations,” she said. “Typically, the donators want to see it go to education programs, more of the kinds of programs where there’s not government funding.”
The funding cuts came at the height of flood season, Fox said.
“We really don’t even have a lot of information from our member conservation authorities about the impact because they’re on the ground dealing with the floods,” she added. “They definitely haven’t been calling around asking for donations at this point.”
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No, the funding cuts will not influence the province’s response to recent flooding events, according to Fox and Feltmate.
“It was erroneously reported…that conservation authorities are at Huntsville and Bracebridge,” Fox said. “There is no conservation authority in that area. That is managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry district office.”
Yakabuski, the minister of natural resources and forestry, said in a statement that the province is prepared to deal with the ongoing flooding in Ontario and that reductions will not affect the core programs that the conservation authorities are mandated to provide.
“Our government’s proposal will see conservation authorities focus on their core mandated programs and services, such as managing the impact(s) to the control of water-related natural hazards,” the statement read.
According to Feltmate, however, the floods will continue all summer.
“The harsh reality is that due to climate change, the frequency and magnitude of potential flood events is going to increase going forward,” he finished.
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