Post Office Box 483, Durham, Ontario, NOG 1RO
Phone (519) 369-2195   /   Fax; (519) 369-2992
opera@bmts.com  /  Web Page: www.bmts.com/~opera/

October 8, 2002 

Mr. Bill Murdoch, MPP
Constituency Office
1047 – 2cnd Avenue, East
Owen Sound, Ontario, N4K 2H8

Dear Bill:

            Thanks for your September 20th letter with enclosures from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) regarding the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC) at Peterborough.

The MNR response in this exchange confirms that  (1) Canadian subsidiaries of U.S. Non-Government Organizations do indeed play an active and important role in controlling private land use in Ontario (2) information denied to Ontario taxpayers on grounds of “deemed” confidentiality is readily available to this special interest group in both Canada and the United States (3) NHIC membership does not include rural landowner organizations as such and the Centre cannot, or will not, reveal the total acreage of private land in Ontario now entered on its database.

MNR gifted 600,000 taxpayer dollars to The Nature Conservancy of Canada in 1996. We suspect those funds helped establish the NHIC. How much of its total operating cost has been charged to Ontario’s public accounts since that time is also open to question.

Turning to the response from TNC, an OPERA delegation would be pleased to attend any personal meeting between yourself and that organization to discuss our statements its Mr. Riley chooses to dismiss as “inaccurate”. In our view, describing his group as “non-profit, non-advocacy” is itself an exercise in semantics that brings new meaning to that overworked word. In fact, with corporate assets in the U.S. totalling more than a billion U.S. dollars and an annual U.S. budget of 275 million, TNC has been reported to be one the most profitable real estate operators in the world.  

As to the advocacy position of this powerful manipulator of other people’s property within the NHIC orbit, a single, long paragraph in a sweeping TNC indictment from the extensively researched 1996 best-seller “Trashing the Economy” will suffice. To wit:

Quote. “TNC’s Natural Heritage Program, a joint venture with more than 40 state governments, lists natural wonders, rarities and habitats of endangered plants and animals. The money to do this comes from state, federal, foundation and private funds. TNC sends in a 4-person team to each state – a botanist, zoologist, ecologist and data processing specialist. They ransack all available records, texts, theses, museums and herbarium collections to establish just what the state (province). has to protect. They examine real estate records and potential preservation sites for government acquisition. Then they enter it into their database. TNC’s Biological and Conservation Data System is distributed across 76 locations in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. It consists of 45 integrated files subdivided into 2000 data fields. The database holds information pertaining to 65,000 plant and animal species in 400,000 locations. This database is ‘so fine-grained’ says the Wall Street Journal ‘that, in some states, it records the precise locations of individual eagle nets and clumps of globally endangered grass’. The Conservation Data Center Network is an elaborate TNC-owned system operated to train government agents to identify and track private property to enforce land use controls. In essence, TNC constructs a land use control database in a state (province) or nation, then gives the system to the government. Getting a private tract listed on the Natural Heritage Program focuses government attention on the property. This creates the expectation that it will someday be declared an undevelopable preserve, thus destroying its marketability as productive land and severely distorting its price, inflating it if government purchase is certain, depressing it if not”. End quote.

TNC is non-advocacy? Yeah, right! And it doesn’t manipulate government either! No sir!

Despite soothing MNR assurances and glowing TNC rhetoric to the contrary, the NHIC appears to be a tribunal programmed to monitor and control private property in the motherhood name of “conservation”. Thanks to NEC recommendations in the most recent Niagara Escarpment Plan Review and subsequently extended across Ontario in a registered MNR proposal, this is a label that exempts land so designated and owned by “qualified” special interest groups from municipal property taxes. 

It’s significant that TNC, one of 5 such groups that successfully lobbied the Ontario government for “public body status” on the Escarpment, is an MNR partner in the NHIC. And its extensive real estate holdings across Ontario are excused, presumably by happy coincidence or a merciful God, from property levies other private landowners must pay.

In our view, Ontario taxpayers, especially rural landowners, have good reason to ask some hard questions about the NHIC. Let’s hope they get some straight answers in the upcoming provincial election.

Thanks again for your help.

R.A. (Bob) Fowler


If you have any questions or comments, please Mr. R. A. Fowler, Secretary.
or write
O.P.E.R.A. c/o R.A. Fowler, Secretary P.O. Box 483, Durham, Ontario. N0G 1R0