Central Manitoulin supports calls for MNR office to remain open

MINDEMOYA—The Mayor of the Town of Espanola has implored the Minister of Natural Resources (MNR) not to close the local MNR office in Espanola. Meanwhile, the Municipality of Central Manitoulin is in support of calls by Espanola for the office to remain open.

Mike Lehoux, mayor of the Town of Espanola told the Recorder after the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual conference last week, “we spoke to Minister Gravelle concerning the Espanola MNR office and our concerns with any possibility of it closing or being moved to Sudbury. He told us the government is looking at options for efficiencies, but has made no decisions at this time.”

“I would hope Island municipalities, and all those in the area, would support our concerns,” said Mr. Lehoux. “If the district office were to close there would be no provincial presence in our area. My position is that 14 jobs in Espanola are more important and mean more than 15 jobs relocating in Sudbury. And currently small towns in Northern Ontario are taking an economic beating. We have heard the Service Ontario office may also be privatized,bBut we were told by the minister they (MNR) haven’t made a final decision as of yet.”

“We have received a letter asking for support from the Town of Espanola to the Minister of Natural Resources (MNR) for the retention of the office in Espanola, rather than having it moved to Sudbury,” stated Pat MacDonald, Central Manitoulin councillor, at a meeting last week. “The MNR office in Espanola serves a lot of communities in the area, not just those of us on Manitoulin Island.”

Ms. MacDonald said the administration had reviewed the Espanola letter and determined, “it would be difficult for the town of Espanola to replace these jobs, and there would be lessened services in the area. And, for people who come to Manitoulin Island, it is easier to deal with business relating to the ministry in Espanola rather than Sudbury.”

Ms. MacDonald pointed out the Espanola MNR office has 15 full- and part-time employees and the building it is located in also houses the Service Ontario office.

“When the government starts closing offices, we have seen before (that) it snowballs and we won’t get the services we do now,” stated Reeve Gerry Strong. “For instance, it is hard enough to keep water levels right from Big Lake to Mindemoya without services being reduced.”

Council passed a motion supporting the town of Espanola’s request to the MNR.

Espanola Mayor Mike Lehoux, in a letter to MNR Minister Michael Gravelle, dated July 13, 2012, states, “we are writing to express our concern with the possible closure of our local Ministry of Natural Resources office in our small Northern community of Espanola. The office currently employs approximately 15 full- and part-time staff, including the Service Ontario office. The local office operates as a satellite office of the Sudbury location, which is located approximately 45 minutes away.”

“The economic significance of this closure would not only be felt by losing several well paid jobs in our community, but may also lead to a further loss of infrastructure funds which the local office utilizes to improve and maintain access to our surrounding lakes and crown land which are used for recreational activities,” wrote Mr. Lehoux. “This office services several surrounding municipalities including all of Manitoulin Island, the townships of Sables-Spanish River, Baldwin and Nairn-Hyman. The services that our local office provides are valued by all who access these recreational areas as well as various businesses involved in tourism and angling industries, which are an integral part of our local economy.”

“The Town of Espanola is a small community which relies heavily on our single industry in the forestry sector,” wrote Mr. Lehoux. “We all know how volatile this industry has been over the last several years and we feel it is vitally important to maintain our local MNR office and the contributions it provides to our surrounding areas.”

“We understand the fiscal challenges faced by all levels of government in these tough economic times, however, we ask that you please consider the significant economic loss to our community, which would be far greater than any increase which may result if these positions were relocated to our neighbouring City of Greater Sudbury,” wrote Mr. Lehoux.

“As a small town we are committed to maintaining jobs in our community and would be willing to work with your ministry in whatever way possible to ensure the continued presence of your office in our community,” added Mr. Lehoux.

Dr. Terry Quinney, of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), told the Recorder last Friday, “we had a meeting with a couple of senior MNR staff members. It has been five months since the provincial budget was released and we have no update for you. They said they still have no information to share with us, of the cuts they are planning to make, even though they have been mulling this over since late March. I don’t think an announcement will be made in the near future.”