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Seeking Clarification On The Minister Of Environment's Recent Comments

The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority is challenging the recent comments made by Minister of Environment Jeff Yurek.

OXFORD COUNTY - The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority is pushing back on Minister of Environment Jeff Yurek's comments surrounding a letter issued from the province late Friday night.

In response to questions on the letter, Yurek says the municipalities have an inability to control the spending of Conservation Authorities.

General Manager Ian Wilcox says they wanted to clarify his comments.

"What we're clarifying today is that for 70 years we've existed at the whim of the municipalities and we are controlled by the municipalities, including our budget approval. So all Conservation Authorities report to a Board of Directors and for the UTRCA we have 15 members on our board who represent each of the municipalities in our watershed so those members are appointed by the municipalities and sit here as municipal representatives. So nine of our 15 members are municipal councillors, the other six are appointed by municipalities to represent them and every program we offer and all budgets are approved by those municipal representatives. So the suggestion from the Minister that somehow we're completely independent and municipalities have no say or control is completely false, and we've operated as a partnership in the municipalities' interest for more than 70 years."

The letter suggested Conservation Authorities wind down all of their programs. The only programs excluded would be flood control, drinking water source protection and management of Authority-owned lands.

The UTRCA responded in a press release yesterday saying each Conservation Authority is governed by a Board of Directors and the Directors are appointed by the watershed municipalities and most are municipal councillors. 

Wilcox says he's concerned with the way the province is characterizing the relationship between the UTRCA and municipalities, as an attempt to create a rift or damage the relationship.

"We're hopeful that some of the push back, some of the frustration that we're expressing that members of the public are expressing because we know there have been lots of letters to the Minister not supporting this government's direction. We hope, at the very least, it restarts the conversation that at least the Ministry and ourselves can sit down and start to work together on what the future holds rather than one dictating to the other."

The release says Yurek's comments show a misunderstanding on the relationship between Conservation Authorities and their member municipalities.

The release continues to say the Conservation Authority’s Board of Directors makes decisions democratically, in the same manner that a municipal council or the provincial government does. 

Not all decisions are unanimous and while some municipalities may not agree with the Board’s decisions, they have had representation and been involved in the decision making. 

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