MNR Espanola office to lose nine positions

ESPANOLA—As part of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) transformation and re-organization of its office structure provincially, nine positions within the Espanola office will be leaving the community.

“Through a combination of relocations, surpluses, and personal decisions staff have made to exit the workforce, nine positions will be withdrawn from Espanola by April 1, 2014. Most of these staff have been offered relocation to our Sudbury district office,” explained Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with the MNR, on Tuesday. “Three conservation officers will continue to work out of Espanola once the reorganization is complete.”

Ms. Kowalski further explained, “MNR staff will not be withdrawn from the Espanola office immediately. They will still have a presence in the community for some months. MNR district and area offices haven’t provided front counter services for the public (for things like buying a hunting or fishing licence) in some years. These services are provided through ServiceOntario, by phone and online, so there won’t be any difference in how the public accesses MNR services.”

“Clients and stakeholders who have been working with staff in the Espanola office will be able to continue to work with MNR staff by phone and email, or in person by appointment at the Sudbury district office,” said Ms. Kowalski.

“This is part of the Ontario Liberal government’s transformation plans, with over 100 cuts being made across the province,” said Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, after the MNR announcements last week. “We’re trying to figure out if the government already filled the job postings because of attenuation, and the new positions they say will be created after the transformation is done are new, or if they are just filling in the positions being cut now. It is unfortunate to everyone in the North that we are seeing any type of job cuts. Our forests and resources have already been, and are being, diminished, and we need individuals in all the areas of the North. This latest move just shows how unconnected this government is with Northern Ontario.”

Jim Sloss, chair of the United Fish and Game Clubs of Manitoulin (UFGCM), told the Recorder, “I’m not aware of what the changes are, but everyone has been apprehensive something terrible was going to happen. We’ve had a very good working relationship with Wayne Selinger, area biologist for the Manitoulin area, over the years. He has quite a bit of knowledge about deer management concerns and fishing concerns as well. We won’t be happy if he is leaving, or we won’t be able to access him as we have in the past.”

“It’s always been the case that the MNR is not placed as a high priority in the province by the government, even though it is one of the most important ministries for Northern Ontario,” said Mr. Sloss. “It becomes a question of how many cuts do they make until there is nothing there.”

“Obviously we’re concerned about what has been an ongoing downloading of our once proud Ministry of Natural Resources,” said Greg Farrant, of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). “Governments of all levels have and are looking at cost cut exercises, as they should. But a lot of personnel and important services are being affected. Those in the field are going to be spending less time in the field and more time doing paper work. How someone doing paperwork in an office protects our fish and wildlife and natural resources I don’t know.”

“This is not a happy story,” said Mr. Farrant. “This comes after the environment commissioner had reported earlier this year that the ministries of environment and natural resources make up a tiny amount of the provincial budget. This makes it even tougher for the MNR to do its job.”

“The whole issue begs the question ‘why wasn’t there more open dialogue on the whole matter,’ with the MMA (Manitoulin Municipal Association), municipalities, tourist operators and fish and game clubs,” said Mr. Sloss. “We have been, and were, left in a situation to wait and see what happens. It is just another step towards folding up the MNR.”

 Tom Sasvari