Letter: NFU-O wants conservation authority powers restored

To the Editor,

(An open letter to the following ministers)

Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
Hon. Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance
Hon. Jeff Yurek, Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks
Hon. John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
Hon. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Hon. Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs
Dec. 7, 2020
Re. Schedule 6 of the Budget Measures Act (Bill 229)
Honourable Premier and Ministers,
The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) is an accredited farm organization representing thousands of sustainable family farmers in Ontario and has advocated for farm families across Ontario and Canada since 1969. Members work together to achieve agricultural policies that ensure dignity and income security for farm families while protecting and enhancing rural environments for future generations. The NFU-O collaborates locally, nationally, and internationally to research, educate, and share effective solutions that lead to a better world for farm families and their local communities.

Members of the NFU-O are deeply concerned about our changing climate and how it impacts our ability as farmers to continue to produce food. As farmers, we are looking for ways to adapt to the changing climate and to make the necessary changes to decrease greenhouse gas emissions on our farms. The rainfall, snow falls, water levels, and temperature data across watersheds that Conservation Authorities have collected and will continue to collect, incorporate into modelling, and make available to the public will be needed to help us understand how the climate is changing. This monitoring/modelling work must remain part of the mandate of Conservation Authorities.

As a grassroots organization, the NFU-O recognizes the ability Conservation Authorities have in responding innovatively and effectively to the needs and priorities of local communities, including farmers. Their boards are made up of local representatives familiar with their municipal landscape. Their staff have a strong track record of working with farmers and farm organizations to source funding for and deliver regionally significant projects designed to implement agricultural best management practices to improve soil health, increase biodiversity and enhance natural areas on our farms. In addition, Conservation Authorities provide important on-the-ground expertise to farmers in mitigating soil erosion, maintaining healthy soils and preventing nutrient run-off. This funding and in-person support to farmers is at risk if Conservation Authorities are required to reduce their services to just their core mandate.

Their science-based watershed information is absolutely vital in steering development to the most appropriate places, minimizing risks to the environment and to people. The proposed changes under Schedule 6 of the Budget Measures Act (Bill 229) limit the Conservation Authorities’ ability to provide input to municipal planning applications and to permit decisions and appeals, a clear threat to public safety and a compromise of environmental values.

The NFU-O also recognizes the importance of maintaining and enhancing natural areas, including wetlands and woodlots, both on our own farms and on lands owned and maintained by Conservation Authorities. The mandate of Conservation Authorities must continue to allow them to maintain ecologically important land to help us retain natural areas which provide recreation, preserve biodiversity and help address flooding concerns.

The Conservation Authority model has served Ontario well since its creation as a result of Hurricane Hazel. Many levels of government, business, and private individuals rely upon its expertise to reduce flooding and other natural hazards. Ontario’s Conservation Authorities are not only recognized for their excellence by the people of Ontario, but by naturalists and environmentalists in New York, Ohio, and Michigan. Manitoba is currently exploring ideas of implementing a similar watershed-based model like the Ontario one to help it cope with its climate challenges.

For the reasons notes above, we request that the Provincial Government remove Schedule 6 of Bill 229, renew the long-standing partnership with Conservation Authorities, provide them with the tools and financial resources necessary to fulfill their watershed management role, and honour the well-proven Conservation Authorities/municipal relationship as you work with Conservation Authorities to reduce red tape and create conditions for growth.
Don Ciparis,
NFU-O President