If you have been hearing about provincial government cuts in Ontario and are wondering how it might affect your cottage and the environment, we’ve got a summary for you.
According to Terry Rees, executive director of Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA), “Constraints by the Provincial government have certainly curtailed the Province’s commitments to supporting joint projects with third parties, and their aggressive legislative reform agenda means some ongoing uncertainty in the public’s dealings with our colleagues at MECP, MNRF, MNDM, MMAH, and other ministries.”
In other words, the cuts affect a wide range of programs and services. But what is also of concern, according to a report by the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN), is the uncertainty created by the budget. The government has backtracked on some cuts due to public pressure, but nonetheless leaves some nonprofits and ministries uncertain about their funding. Some note they will have to cancel programming in which they’ve already invested existing funding. The Ford government justified the cuts in a statement, saying, “As part of our commitment to protect critical services, difficult decisions must be made to ensure fiscal responsibility.”
So what, exactly, does this mean for cottage country?
Last spring, the provincial government cut its funding to conservation authorities—which, among other mandates, work to manage flood planning and response—by 50%. A spokesperson for Conservation Ontario, the umbrella organization for the province’s 36 conservation authorities, told a Barrie news station that “cutting natural hazards funding is particularly problematic right now in light of the fact that…Ontario is experiencing stronger and more frequent flooding as a result of climate change impacts.”
Critics, such as Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, claim that endangered species will be at greater risk under Bill 108, the provincial government’s “More Homes, More Choice Act” which, rolls back protections for species at risk to make getting approvals easier for developers. Species already classified as “at risk” can be delisted if those species aren’t at risk in other areas, according to a story in The National Observer.
There is also a proposed delay in the time it will take to get a species on the endangered list to receive protection, from three months to a year.
According to an article in The Toronto Star, the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre had its second-year funding of the three-year program slashed by 70% with no guarantee of funding for its final year. The program provides scientific information to help First Nations manage natural resources and protect endangered wildlife. Both The Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program and the Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database saw cuts.
Terry Rees told Cottage Life in the spring that the provincial government cut 100% of its funding for an invasive species prevention and education program, which was in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Rees pointed out that stopping programs already in place affects the momentum and consistency of a crucial message to cottagers.
The Ontario Invasive Plant Council also saw its funding eliminated, leading the organization to consider shutting down.
The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters invasive species program was cut almost in half. The danger, according to a spokesperson at the Ontario Invasive Council, is due to the very nature of invasives: that any hesitation to tackle their spread just means more work and cost in the future.
Funding for the 50 Million Tree Program, which offers financial incentives to property owners to plant trees, was cut by the provincial government but then restored by the federal Liberals. Trees, of course, help mitigate the effects of climate change, but also offer wildlife habitat, improve soil quality, provide shade and create shoreline stability, which can reduce damage from flooding.
Driving to the cottage:
A $46 million decrease in funding to the Ontario Provincial Police, most of which came from “field and traffic services” came at the same time the government raised speed limits for sections of 400-series highways.
Gone is Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, whose job it was to act as a watchdog over government policy and report on environmental programs. Diane Saxe, the former commissioner, sounded the alarm over the cut, noting to the Canadian Press that the government is an “obstacle” to climate change progress in the province and a threat to future generations.