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Doug Ford says Black Creek Pioneer Village won’t be shut down
August 26, 2019
Francine Kopun

Black Creek Pioneer Village will continue to operate, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday, but other programs and services run by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority remain at risk of being shut down.

“We don’t plan on getting rid of Pioneer Village. It’s iconic. I remember going there when I was 7 years old, 8 years old,” said Ford, responding to questions at a news conference.

“We don’t mind educational programs, I think they’re very healthy.”

Jennifer Innis, chair of the conservation authority, raised the possibility of Black Creek Pioneer Village closing in a letter to board members sent Thursday afternoon and obtained by the Star.

In the letter, Innis said she had asked for clarification after Environment Minister Jeff Yurek told conservation authorities in the province to start winding down activities that are outside the scope of their core mandate, which is protecting the watershed. That sparked concern among conservation authorities, who run a wide variety of programs, from reviewing development applications to maple syrup festivals.

Innis said she was concerned the historical site might be considered a non-core program.

In an interview on Friday, Innis said she was surprised by the wording of Yurek’s instructions to conservation authorities, because it had been her understanding that programs that were cost-neutral, profitable or funded by a municipality would be allowed to keep operating.

Innis said that programs that may not seem core to the TRCA’s mandate, including the TRCA’s trails, education centres and neigbourhood-level programs like tree-planting, help make communities more sustainable. She pointed out that MPPs are frequent visitors to maple syrup festivals organized by conservation authorities -- festivals that had been singled out as non-core by Yurek.

“All of these offer opportunities to connect our residents with nature to give them a better understanding of the environment that is surrounding them,” said Innis.

The province has defined the mandate of conservation authorities as protecting watersheds and drinking water and specific conservation efforts.

The province’s More Homes, More Choice Act 2019, which received royal assent in June, proposes changes to several acts protecting the environment in Ontario, including the Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Conservation Authorities Act.

The idea is to streamline the path to development, including transit projects, flood protection projects, roads and housing, by reducing overlap and making approvals faster and less expensive.

The development community has been lobbying the province to reduce red tape in order to speed up construction, but concerns are mounting that the province is undermining laws that protect the environment.

The new legislation says that conservation authorities’ core programs and services should be clearly defined, including, for example flood protection, while eliminating “frivolous additional expenses.”

Innis said she can’t say how the TRCA’s ability to review planning and development applications might be affected by the changes.

“I can’t speak to that just yet because we actually don’t have the definitions or the regulations, which would determine that. They have committed to continuing those conversations with us, and I know that our staff at the TRCA has been meeting regularly with their staff, so until the definitions and regulations are brought forward, I can’t comment on that.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he supports both the flood control work the TRCA does and the educational programs, including the sugar bush festivals.

“I hope we preserve the best of what they do by way of activities for people. But at the same time they do have to focus on getting things done that I think are very urgent from the standpoint of dire response to climate change and some of the weather conditions we’re facing. But I don’t think that has to be at the expense of these other activities.”