MNR cuts threaten vulnerable Northern Ontario communities

QUEEN’S PARK––Local politicians are joining Northern Ontario NDP MPPs, in their frustration concerning job and service cuts involving the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) taking place across Northern Ontario.

“Something is really rotten in the state of Denmark,” stated an exasperated Billings Township Councillor, Brian Parker, who raised concerns about the cuts taking place in Northern Ontario recently.

Mayor Austin Hunt said the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) has also raised concerns with closures to Northern Ontario parks and the proposed closure of a number of MNR offices.

“My concern is we’ve seen cuts in Service Ontario offices, the ONTC, Ocean and Fisheries moving offices from Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Thunder Bay to Hamilton, park closures and other cuts in personnel and offices of the MNR are expected,” said Mr. Parker.

“And the Espanola office of the MNR is going to be closed, as I understand it,” said Councillor Tom Imrie.

“We are taking inordinate hits in staffing and funding and jobs in Northern Ontario,” said Mr. Parker.

Mr. Hunt pointed out one of the biggest reasons for all these cuts is that the federal and provincial governments are carrying huge deficits.

“Ontario does not end at Barrie,” said Mr. Parker.

It was further pointed out by Councillor Sandi Hurcomb that in terms of parks, new comfort facilities are being created in southern Ontario, “mean services are being closed in the North.”

“And now we find out the proposal for the environmental assessment looking at the possibility of stocking wild turkeys-pheasants on Manitoulin Island has been cancelled,” continued Mr. Parker. “This would have brought revenues for local property owners, farmers, hunters and businesses. It would have benefited the economy.” He said Manitoulin was supposed to get these birds first, originally, but a stocking of turkeys was made in St. Joseph’s Island and the birds have done well in climates similar to Manitoulin.

Last week in Question Period, northern NDP MPPs called on Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle to stop cutting jobs across Northern Ontario.

“Last week the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) unveiled some of its transformation plan, which includes significant cuts to jobs, parks and the long-standing Ontario Ranger Program,” explained Natural Resources Critic Sarah Campbell.

“For the past number of months Northerners have been on edge, worrying about whether the cuts will hit their communities. Because in a Northern community like Ignace, with a population of 1,000 or 1,500, the loss of only a few jobs can have a devastating effect on the local economy,” said Ms. Campbell.

“Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey has said that he has had personal assurances from the minister that the MNR office in his town will not be closed. My question to the minister is simple: can he provide the same assurances to small towns across the northwest that are outside of his riding,” asked Ms. Campbell.

Seija Deschenes, of Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association, added her concerns to the cancellation of the MNR Young Rangers Program which has benefitted the group immensely over the years. “This is definitely sad news because everyone had told everyone to go on the EBR (Environmental Bill of Rights) website and write in their comments about the program,” she said. “Why would they cut this program without asking the residents of Ontario about this?”

Ms. Deschenes pointed out the Young Rangers has done “a ton of fencing work and helped with stream projects we have had on the Island. They have been a great contributor to many of our projects. They have been extremely important to us. They spend at least two weeks each summer working on rehabilitation projects here. For instance, just recently they completed fencing at the Grimsthorpe Creek over two days.”

Ms. Campbell was followed in Question Period by Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha.

“People in northeastern Ontario are also outraged with this decision, which once again suggests we are second class citizens in this province,” said Mr. Mantha. “This summer the Premier visited Elliot Lake following the tragic collapse of the mall and he committed to helping rebuild the community and the local economy. “Since the mall collapse, Elliot Lakers have experienced drastic job losses, unemployment and an uncertain future.”

“Now we have learned that they are closing Mississagi Provincial Park, resulting in further job losses in our community and across the North. Is this the government’s idea of helping out Elliot Lake and other Northern communities?” asked Mr. Mantha.