The following is based on the remarks made by Conservation Ontario’s General Manager, Kim Gavine, to the Standing Committee on Finance on January 20, 2022.
In our submission to the provincial pre-budget consultations, we told members of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs that conservation authorities already help Ontario to build resilience against the impacts of climate change, rapid urbanization and pandemic conditions. With targeted investments, we could do much more.
Extreme weather and other climate change impacts take a costly toll on the well-being of Ontario’s residents, on our infrastructure, and with the functioning of business and industry. We need only to look at the recent and tragic events in British Columbia. The disastrous flooding that took place had a major impact on people’s homes and livelihoods, on drinking water infrastructure, food supplies and the environment.
The key to a more resilient Ontario lies in understanding how nature is so closely connected to our own well-being and to our economy; and then doing everything we can to protect, restore and conserve it. We need to re-imagine the value of nature.
Conservation authorities are key delivery agents for the province, around flooding, conservation lands, and drinking water source protection. Their watershed programs protect people from flooding, reduce costly damages, ensure safe drinking water sources, support sustainable growth and protect the Great Lakes.
Conservation authorities also play an important role in how we grow in Ontario. They facilitate a provincial housing strategy by balancing growth and environmental pressures. Since April 2019, conservation authorities have been making improvements to CA plan review and permitting activities by increasing the speed of approvals and reducing red tape.
Conservation Ontario applauds the Government’s establishment of a Streamline Development Approval fund to modernize, streamline and accelerate housing applications. We believe expanding its scope to include interactions between municipalities and conservation authorities will positively enhance the impacts of this initiative. The goal of conservation authorities is to keep development safe and make sure it doesn’t create new hazards which could jeopardize public health or threaten the environment in the process.
It makes good business sense for the province to support the conservation authorities’ work.
We are asking for the province’s particular attention on four items.
#1 Flooding and Erosion: The provincially mandated natural hazards work of conservation authorities is woefully underfunded. Funding and technical support is needed for programs, aging infrastructure, floodplain mapping and the development of asset management plans as now required by the Conservation Authorities Act. The province could also top up federal natural hazards programs to assist in infrastructure and floodplain mapping improvements.
#2 Conservation Areas: New funding is needed for the maintenance and operation of conservation lands. Conservation authorities manage about 500 conservation areas. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of people visiting these areas. We’ve gone from approximately 8 million people per year to 10 million. Improvements are needed to bridges, trails, washroom facilities and parking lots that were built years ago to accommodate far fewer users. We need to be able to keep visitors safe. As well, more lands are needed to help meet the demand of residents.
#3 Protect Nature: Provincial support needs to be provided to targeted programs that protect and restore Ontario’s natural green infrastructure. Simply put, we need funding for stewardship and green infrastructure programs in order to plant more trees, protect wetlands and build shoreline resilience such as along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
#4 Build Local Science: Conservation authorities are an important source of local watershed science. And it’s this work that supports the decisions which are made around Ontario’s environment. Provincial funding is needed for technological improvements and expanded monitoring and reporting systems.
There are all kinds of measurable outcomes when you support the work of conservation authorities.
- Reduced risks and costs from flooding and erosion
- Less red tape and more sustainable growth that supports a provincial housing strategy
- Clean and sustainable drinking water sources, clean air, and reduced heat vulnerability
- Improved public health and reduced healthcare costs
Investing in conservation authorities pays off for all of us.