Mandate probe can be painful
There are some telltale unmistakable signs that you are about to have a bad day. For example, if you are pulled over by a police officer on your way to work, you know you are not off to a good start. And, the blood pressure will rise if, when you do arrive an hour late for a meeting with the boss, before you get the pink slip, you are advised to call your doctor, immediately, about your blood test.
Trepidation can also ensue these days if you work for a provincially funded organization in Ontario and you learn that the government is striving to mark that organization more efficient and “improving delivery of a core mandate.”
Thus, conservation authorities had reason to be worried when the government announced it “is working for the people to ensure conservation authorities focus and deliver on their core mandate of protecting people, property and natural resources from the threats and impacts of extreme weather and flooding.”
That seems like a reasonable and innocuous goal, however, in recent months, the ongoing quest for efficiencies has usually meant down-sizing. Cutbacks in education and French-language services, a slash in the police watchdog’s budget, a shake-up of health care agencies and the elimination of the environmental commissioner’s office are just some of the austerity measures Premier Doug Ford has made or has pledged to make.
The mandate examination announcement was followed by a major cut in conservation authorities’ budgets.
We all know that all Ontarians must tighten belts and make sacrifices if the province is ever to pull itself out of the financial morass created by the Liberals. But a new low was reached a few weeks ago when the Premier mused about reviewing the efficacy of using sedation during colonoscopies.
Of course, much hilarity and toilet humour were unleashed on social media, where a petition was launched to urge the Premier to lead the way, take the plunge and undergo the procedure without the benefit of numbing medication.
Few untrained professionals are eager to probe the issue of colonoscopies, yet, many are automatically assuming that the Premier would indeed stoop to the point of making an already unpleasant exam even more stressful. Strangely enough, although Ontario is broke, the government does have money, time and energy to spend on redesigning licence plates. But, since the Tories were elected with a huge majority and will be in power for at least another three years, all we can hope that there is method to the government’s apparent madness.
No bodies are immune to the government’s cost-conscious scrutiny. Thus it is understandable that the powers that be want to analyze conservation authorities which help organize canoe races, and plant trees when they are not protecting drinking water and conserving, restoring, and managing Ontario’s natural resources.
The laws that govern the 36 conservation authorities in Ontario could use a refresh -- the Conservation Authorities Act was enacted in 1946.
“Losses associated with flooding and other natural hazards in Ontario are lower than those experienced in other jurisdictions due to Ontario’s prevention-first approach, achieved in part through the planning and regulatory approaches delivered by conservation authorities,” the gov
The government is consulting stakeholders and the public to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used effectively, and as extreme weather, particularly flooding, becomes more frequent due to climate change, that conservation authorities remain focused on their core mandate.
“Our government is putting people first to help communities and families prepare and respond to climate change,” says John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
The province wants to update how conservation authorities use municipal levies to pay for programs and services, while it also streamlines and standardizes the role conservation authorities play in permitting and municipal planning, reducing overlap and making approvals faster and less costly. Plus, the government will improve conservation authorities' governance and accountability.
Obviously, the government, which is “open for business,” wants to fast-track development, hence the reference to streamlining and accelerating approvals. But the other objectives are as nebulous as the logic behind new licence plates and drug-free colon checks.
Animal welfare overhaul
Last year, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals served notice that it was withdrawing from the law enforcement the charity has been carrying out since 1919. Court challenges, financial problems and officers’ burn-out have all contributed to the OSPCA’s internal re-organization that will radically change how animal welfare is protected in this province. An agreement has been reached between the Ontario government and the Humane Society to extend its enforcement services until June 28. But as of April 1, the OSPCA has been no longer investigating and enforcing animal cruelty laws for livestock. Anyone with concerns about a farm animal is asked to call police.
The uncertain situation arises after a Superior Court judge agreed with the Ontario Landowners Association that the government erred in granting police powers to the OSPCA without imposing accountability and transparency standards on the agency. The OLA has cheered the court decision which it says proves many irate animal owners had legitimate complaints about SPCA officers. The five-year legal fight was initiated because the OLA felt the SPCA was overzealous in investigating complaints of animal abuse. Since there was is no definition of abuse in the law, it was up to the SPCA agent to determine if the grievance was legitimate. The government is not sure what to do now. Thus, it will consult stakeholders. “The province has committed to developing a more robust animal protection regime that provides greater transparency and accountability. The regime will be informed by thoughtful engagement with a diverse range of interested individuals and groups,” the government says. “The government is committed to ensuring no animals fall through the cracks during this transition. Cooperation between government, animal protection organizations, agriculture groups, and other stakeholders will be essential for the protection of animals and livestock in the interim. This government is committed to ensuring enforcement continues during this transition.” As June rapidly approaches, everyone who loves animals is hoping that the province will back up those encouraging words with concrete actions.