ERCA tries to process ‘wind-down’ directive from province

Essex Region Conservation Authority logo, February 17, 2018. Courtesy of ERCA.

The local conservation authority is puzzled by the Ontario government’s directive to find cost-cutting measures.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is asking all 36 of the province’s conservation authorities, including the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), to “wind-down” programs that did not fall under certain mandatory headings, such as flood control, drinking water, as well as maintenance and protection of authority-owned lands.

ERCA General Manager Richard Wyma told that when the authority received the letter last week from Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, he was taken aback considering the work ERCA has already done with the communities that fall within its jurisdiction.

“It was very much a surprise to get a letter like this that sort of preempted a lot of those discussions and consultations that need to happen,” said Wyma. “Not just with conservation authorities but municipalities are our largest partner in the delivery of the programs that we deliver, and there is no consultation even with municipalities.”

Some of the programs identified by the ministry that may be expendable are those that are community-based, but Wyma pointed out that some of those programs are run without any financial help from the province. One in particular hits home because of concern over high water levels and the likelihood of flooding.

“I think about things like our tree-planting and restoration programs,” said Wyma. “They’re not specifically mentioned as mandatory programs, yet they are very important to our trees and natural areas that we restore, and wetlands, because they provide an additional level of flood protection.”

Wyma said ERCA is responding to the directive by going back to the municipalities and to the Ford government and getting specific word on regulations that may clarify what exactly is a mandatory program as defined by the ministry.

Ministry spokesman Andrew Buttigieg said in an email to Blackburn News that the Ontario government had proposed potential cost-saving as soon as April of this year, so conservation authorities should not have been surprised or kept in the dark.