Waterloo Region Record

Doug Ford should conserve Ontario’s conservati­on areas


Premier Doug Ford is renowned as an avid cottager in Ontario’s gorgeous Muskoka.

How wonderful for him and his family that they have access to deep, cool forests and tranquil lakes in a world-famous region where the magical cry of a loon can transport you to the closest thing to heaven on Earth.

But while no one should begrudge the premier owning his small piece of paradise, his happy experience should convince him the natural world he loves should remain accessible to other Ontarians.

And that includes the millions of people who can’t afford even a week’s rent for a cottage in Muskoka, people who might instead find a welcome refuge in one of Ontario’s amazing conservati­on areas.

This is why Ford should immediatel­y clarify his government’s plan to curtail the activities of Ontario’s 36 conservati­on authoritie­s, including those in their conservati­on areas. If the Progressiv­e Conservati­ves have any idea of cutting the recreation­al activities enjoyed by so many people, they should think again. And back off.

The people running these conservati­on authoritie­s and the general public have just cause in fearing the fall of yet another PC budgetary axe. On Aug. 16, Environmen­t Minister Jeff Yurek sent a one-page letter to every provincial conservati­on authority telling them “to refocus their efforts on the delivery of programs and services related to the core mandate.”

This wasn’t just ministeria­l whim. Recently passed legislatio­n demands compliance on the part of the conservati­on authoritie­s. What’s being demanded still isn’t clear. But musings by Minister Yurek that recreation programs could be at risk left the conservati­on authoritie­s feeling stunned. And threatened.

Yurek suggested the conservati­on authoritie­s had exceeded their core mandate, which includes conservati­on, managing natural hazard risks such as flooding, managing authority-owned land and protecting drinking water sources.

He listed activities such as zip lining, maple syrup festivals and wedding permits as things the conservati­on authoritie­s could do without. But where should they start and stop?

Many conservati­on authority officials understand­ably fear they’ll be forced to scale back or eliminate popular programs such as camping, swimming, canoeing and skiing.

We’re sorry to say, this looks like a vintage Progressiv­e Conservati­ve hit-and-run. Act before thinking. Announce doomsday is coming. Then have the discussion. And then, after unleashing massive disruption and upheaval, start over.

The conservati­on authoritie­s say they were blindsided by the environmen­t minister’s letter. They say they had no prior consultati­on. That’s disgracefu­l.

And they understand­ably feel galled by the fact that a government that provides barely eight per cent of their budgets is trying to run, and ruin, their show.

Forcing the conservati­on authoritie­s to save a few loonies could cost them millions. That’s because the recreation­al activities offered by these authoritie­s generate vital revenues. For instance, $15.4 million of the revenue that will help the Grand River Conservati­on Authority cover its $35 million budget this year will be self-generated and includes user fees.

Conservati­ves should conserve. As soon as possible, this provincial government should confirm the beloved recreation­al programs and activities offered by the conservati­on authoritie­s will continue as they are.

If Ford believes his slogan that he’s “for the people,” he should realize these conservati­on areas mean a lot more to the people of Ontario than his buck-a-beer. And the poor can’t afford a cottage in Muskoka.

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