The fallout from the 2019 Ontario budget delivered last Thursday continues to be felt, and this week it was felt by conservation authorities across the province, who have been told by the Ministry of Natural Resources that about half their provincial funding is being cut.
According to the Grand River Conservation Authority, they will only be receiving $450,000 from the Ontario government for this fiscal year, which represents a cut of 48 percent of provincial funding.
Now 44 per cent of the GRCA’s budget coming from revenues like camping fees and park admissions, and 33 per cent coming from participating municipalities, so the province doesn’t cover that much of the GRCA budget, right?
Still, government grants represent 11 per cent of the GRCA budget, with one grant alone from the MNR giving $252,955 for Flood Forecasting and Warning. The GRCA was actually expecting a $25,000 increase to this line item in their 2019 budget, but plans, it seems, have changed.
And although Guelph hasn’t experienced any significant flooding in recent years, Cambridge, Brantford, Ayr and New Hamburg have all had serious flooding incidents in the last year, and all, like Guelph, are protected by the GRCA. This news also comes as the GRCA released a warning to use caution around area waterways this weekend as heavy rainfall is forecast throughout southwestern Ontario in the next 48 hours.
The Big Picture
The budget lists the total expenditure for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for the 2019-2020 fiscal year at $672.3 million, which is a deep cut from the $834 million budgeted for 2018-2019. The biggest cut is specifically in the area of Emergency Forest Firefighting, for which $212 million was budgeted in 2018-2019 and just $69.8 million is budgeted for 2019-2020.
Of course, fire isn’t the only disaster that the Province may be making Ontario less prepared for, but the government says it’s for the greater fiscal good.
“Ontario’s current fiscal challenge requires public sector organizations at all levels to find ways to make government spending more effective and efficient,” said MNR spokesperson Justine Lewkowicz in an email to the Hamilton Spectator.
In the budget, the government describes how MNR will refocus on its “core mandate, which is to develop and support Ontario’s natural resources and forestry sectors.” The “core mandate” apparently does not including flood prevention or mitigation, even though another part of the budget discusses launching a “Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment,” which says that the government is “committed to preparing families and communities for the cost and impacts of climate change, such as more frequent severe weather events and flooding.”
Others disagree with the Ministry’s appraisal of the situation.
“A 48 per cent cut to conservation authorities kneecaps their ability to provide flood warning and management services, putting public safety, farmland, water quality, and infrastructure at risk,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a press statement.
“It is irresponsible for Ford to cut emergency forest-fighting by 67 per cent, especially after the damage caused by 1,325 fires last year alone, and at a time when experts are warning that forest fires will become more common and intense,” he added.
Schreiner also made the point that the Ontario government is making these cuts as extreme weather is costing Ontario families and businesses more and more on an annual basis. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, insurance losses related to climate change and severe weather averaged $405 million per year between 1983 and 2008, and has shot up to $1.8 billion between 2009 and 2017, with most of that being related to water damage.
“These cuts leave communities completely on their own at a time when extreme weather is costing Ontario over $1.2 billion in insured losses annually,” Schreiner said. “It’s ironic the Minister made such a big deal about basement flooding in his Environment Plan, only to turn around and slash the funding for flood relief.”
In the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan revealed last fall, the government specifically mentions basement flooding as a primary driver of the cost of climate change on Ontario families. The legislation says that its meant to “build resilience” to “better understand where the province is vulnerable and know which regions and economic sectors are most likely to be impacted.”