THE VOICE OF ONTARIO'S FRUIT, VEGETABLE
AND GREENHOUSE PRODUCERS FOROVER 150 YEARS

OFVGA response to Conservation Authorities Act Discussion Paper

Grand River
Picture of the Grand River in the GRCA. Photo provided by Creative Commons.

Executive Summary

1. OFVGA supports efforts to improve the current structure of conservation authorities in Ontario, recognizing this as an opportunity for a continued relationship between the authorities and Ontario growers.

2. OFVGA questions the benefit of using population as a marker of funding and board size, when urban dwellers have access to conservation authorities across the province, regardless of where they live.

3. OFVGA wishes to see a clearer distinction of roles between the conservation authorities and the various ministries and municipalities overseeing the regulations that conservation authorities enforce.

4. OFVGA supports the conservation authorities in their efforts to enforce regulations that fall under their jurisdiction, but feels there is a lack of consistency in policy and enforcement of those policies from authority to authority, including how those regulations are interpreted.

5. OFVGA supports a stronger funding strategy, as an extension of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which would allow for consistency in programming across conservation authority regions.

6. OFVGA objects to the use of government money by Conservation Ontario to lobby the provincial government on behalf of the conservation authorities, because the source of part of this funding is from the province, a clear conflict of interest.

7. OFVGA suggests and supports the use of a third-party ombudsman to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation authorities ability to administer regulations effectively and consistently.


INTRODUCTION

Members of the OFVGA are committed to strengthening the relationship between Ontario’s conservation authorities and its growers. It is in the best interest of our membership to be able to have competent, knowledgeable, and dependable conservation authorities to which farmers can seek advice, receive permits, access cost-share dollars, and work with to adhere to the various pieces of legislation in place that impact farm businesses and speak to conservation in Ontario. OFVGA has always supported a stakeholder led, science-based approach to environmental stewardship and appreciates the ability to comment on the structure of an organization that seeks to facilitate that ability at the municipal level. Outlined in this submission are our concerns organized by the questions posed in the Conservation Authorities Act Discussion Paper.

CONTEXT

Question #1: In your view, how well is the current governance model as provided in the Conservation Authorities Act working?

a. OFVGA commends the government for giving the conservation authorities more autonomy in their efforts over the last number of years. Having on-the-ground help in enforcing legislation, delivering programs, and facilitating the use of Ontario landscapes is crucial to the sustainability of many communities.

b. Despite this, there seems to be a significant flaw in the conservation authorities’ governance, in that board sizing and voting power is determined by population size. While it is understood that areas with higher population density may have a greater need for conservation due to the impact of intensive human activities, urban dwellers use conservation authorities and the lands they maintain. The more rural parts of Ontario are underrepresented by virtue of low population densities, however, their needs are uniquely different from their urban counterparts in terms of funding, programming, inspection, regulation, and land base to oversee. Many urban-based citizens make use of parks located in rural areas and we must ensure that those parks are adequately managed despite local population densities.

OFVGA also supports an agricultural presence on each conservation authorities board to better reflect how involved conservation authorities can become in on-farm projects. Further, a consistent level of program delivery and enforcement of legislation is needed, with clear response methods from the conservation authorities in order to be successful across the province. The current model leaves too much room for inconsistent adherence to provincial and federal legislation. The Source Water Protection Act is an excellent example, of how legislation can impact water and its uses in agriculture can be affected by how conservation authorities individually enforce legislation without consistency across regions.

c. and d. Additionally, the expectations of each of the core groups involved in the governance of the conservation authorities (e.g. the boards, general managers and chief administration officers, municipalities, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), and other ministries) need to be clearly outlined and consistently enforced across the province. There is presently too much confusion regarding who the enforcement body is of legislation relating to conservation in Ontario, and OFVGA questions the overlap between various positions in the conservation authorities that already exist municipally, provincially and federally. Since the conservation authorities have already been given greater autonomy in the past, OFVGA recommends that the province consider furthering the conservation authorities role in legislation enforcement to better separate out and clarify each group’s role. Without this diversification of roles, conservation authorities run the risk of outliving their usefulness and becoming redundant.

In addition, the multiple levels of enforcement creates a duplication of efforts to enforce legislation e.g. building experts on staff at the conservation authority are duplicates of what most cities now have on staff. OFVGA recommends a thorough review of how these duplications can be avoided by determining which body is required to offer the service.

e. To enhance the governance practices of conservation authorities, OFVGA proposes that an ombudsman be appointed to act as a neutral third-party to act on disputes between conservation authorities and land owners/farmers. At present, there lacks an overarching authority to manage dispute resolution. OFVGA recommends that a process for complaints be created where an ombudsmen can investigate claims of improper enforcement on behalf of a claimant. This acts as a fail safe to the issue surrounding inconsistency in legislation enforcement and should increase process transparency between the authority and the landowner.

Question #2: In your view, how are the programs and services delivered by conservation authorities best financed?

a. OFVGA is concerned that there is not an accurate break down of the funding mechanisms included in the discussion paper. We cannot accurately comment on financials if the figures do not appear to add up.

b. There is concern that the current funding model for the conservation authorities does not benefit each conservation authority equally. Some authorities need more funding than others depending on the activities, programs, and staffing requirements of each. For example, it appears that the Greater Toronto Area conservation authorities are better financially equipped than the majority of others. While they have a greater population density, it leaves an inconsistent level of funding available to more rural conservation authorities with significantly different needs. Furthermore, this model does not reflect the use of conservation authority lands used by Ontarians across the province, regardless of location.

Question # 3: In your view, what should be the role of conservation authorities in Ontario?

b. With regards to Conservation Ontario, OFVGA is apprehensive that a government-funded organization uses that same funding to lobby the provincial government for the needs of the conservation authorities. It appears to be a gross conflict of interest to allow this to occur. OFVGA would recommend that Conservation Ontario’s lobbying efforts be focused more on the needs of those residing in their conservation authorities instead.

d. OFVGA believes there is too much variability in the programming offered through conservation authorities. It is the opinion of many growers that too often there is funding for projects consistently available that is never used up, but there is a lack of staff available to consult on regulatory challenges to growers. While having a variety of programs by region has the advantage of tailoring them by the needs of each watershed, there is no consistency in application and is often at the cost of reliable staff.

e. Under the current framework, whereby certain approvals have been downloaded to the conservation authorities, it does seem necessary that they play some role in the regulation and compliance of specific activities. However, it is important to note that legislation is enforceable and policy is guidance and the two should not be used in the same way. Policy should continue to be flexible, local, and site-specific. Conservation authorities should be limited to their originally intended natural hazard management role, not extending beyond the defined regulated zones; municipal planning departments with relevant expertise should be the authority outside of those zones. This would go a long way to streamlining the planning and development process, improving the efficiency of permitting, enhancing the communication between conservation authorities and municipalities, and facilitating environmentally and fiscally responsible implementation. By clearly defining these roles, no duplication of permitting to achieve the same goal should occur.

It is essential to remove the potential for duplication with other municipal or provincial authorities; there remains a concern that the regulatory and program/outreach service arms of any one conservation authority appear to send conflicting messages to the user base. This creates a communications problem for the authority, the potential for conflict of interest, and the need for a comprehensive conflict resolution process. A clear separation of the two arms, coupled with a more consistent and transparent approach to enforcement activities, would help to alleviate this concern and increase uptake of conservation programming.      

Conclusions

OFVGA appreciates the opportunity to comment on the governance, funding, and roles and responsibilities of the conservation authorities. OFVGA is supportive of the government as it looks to the future of some of its existing policies. We firmly believe that review of these policies is an important first step towards identifying how our communities can become stronger. Continuing to engage Ontarians at this level gives hope that the government of Ontario values the opinions of its constituents.

Moving forward, OFVGA will continue to support efforts to engage our growers in matters that are important to them. We strive to gain consistency at all levels of government and through government agencies such as our conservation authorities. Our hope is that greater responsibility can continue to be granted to the conservation authorities with careful guidance on how to deliver programming in a consistent, concise, and fair manner, that is reflective not only of population density but also of the important natural resources which we strive to protect for all Ontarians.

Click here to download a digital copy of OFVGA's response.

About the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) was established in 1849, which makes it one of Ontario and Canada’s oldest farm commodity organizations. As the voice of Ontario’s vegetable and greenhouse farmers, OFVGA is a nationally recognized not-for-profit association that advocates on behalf of Ontario fruit and vegetable growers and the edible horticulture industry. We represent our members provincially, nationally, and internationally.

The fruit and vegetable sector supports 30,000 farm-based, non-family jobs in Ontario, as well as a further 8,700 jobs specific to horticulture and specialty crops. Over 125 different fruit and vegetable crops are grown in Ontario with an estimated farm gate value of $1.6 billion (2013).

Contact Information

Dr. John Kelly, Executive Vice President
Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association
105 – 355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario.  N1K 1S5
johnkelly@ofvga.org
519-763-6160 x115

Brian Gilroy, Property Section Chair
Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
105 – 355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario.  N1K 1S5
nighthawkorch@brucetelecom.com
519-270-3032

Dr. Justine Taylor, Energy and Environment Co-ordinator
Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers
32 Seneca Road
Leamington, Ontario. N8H 5H7
jtaylor@ontariogreenhouse.com
519-326-2604 x205

Jason Verkaik, Chair of the Board of Directors
Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
105 – 355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario  N1K 1S5
jason@carronfarms.ca
905-775-2432

Norm Charbonneau, Board of Directors
Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
105 – 355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario  N1K 1S5
norm@hiberryfarm.com
519-386-9785

George Shearer, Water Specialist
Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association
105 – 355 Elmira Road North
Guelph, Ontario  N1K 1S5
water@ofvga.org
519-763-6160 X219