By Farmers Forum staff
While some of Ontario’s conservation authorities have branched out into activities and businesses as disparate as cottage rentals and running ski hills, they were told by the environment ministry to wind down their non-core programs. But Conservation Ontario has said that would leave them financially in a bit of a lurch.
Conservation Ontario general manager, Kim Gavine, said the August letter from Minister Jeff Yurek came as a surprise to the organization. Gavine said that they and the government had been in talks for months around what could be done to alleviate budget pressure.
Conservation Ontario estimates that Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities on average generate about 35 per cent of their funding themselves. More than half their funding comes from municipalities (with indirect funding from the province), with the remainder split between provincial and federal grants.
While the core mandate of conservation authorities includes protecting people and property from flooding, conservation authorities might argue it goes beyond that. The province, however, doesn’t believe the core mandate includes running businesses.
The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is probably the most remarkable example of this. Not only does it host an annual maple syrup festival in the spring, but it also owns a golf course and built a BMX park (like a skateboarding park, but for bikes). It also offers the more typical natural fare, including: Camping, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, picnicking, boat rentals, cross-country skiing, dog walking, fly fishing, geocaching (where someone hides an object in a location and others use a GPS system to find it), horseback riding and playgrounds for kids.
A park membership costs $135, lasts a year, and grants a family of up to six people free access to all the parks and trails, as well as discounts on access to events, equipment rentals and food and retail purchases. Admission into one of the authority’s parks, even just to go for a short hike, comes with a small fee.
Conservation Authorities have gotten into all kinds of different business. Some host annual events like maple syrup festivals or Christmas-themed events. At least one owns a cottage that it rents out. Another offers rights for commercial films and photography, at least one owns a ski hill.
Conservation authorities told to stop running businesses, stick to flood protection
By Farmers Forum staff