|Back to Home||Editorial - April 26, 2012|
Don't Ask MNR for a Straight AnswerEditorial by Jeff Green
A couple of weeks ago, we ran an article called “Deputy Minister sees diminished role for MNR”. The article was based on the transcript of a video statement by David O’Toole, the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, that was viewed by staff throughout the ministry in the wake of the provincial budget, a budget that has now been approved by the Ontario legislature.
The statement raised a number of questions, and I attempted to get some clarity from the ministry. I waited seven days, but when I received the response last week from the communications department at the ministry, I’m afraid I found it less than forthcoming about the ministries real plans.
One of the key questions I asked was what kind of risk Mr. O’Toole was referring to in his statement “Resource monitoring programs will be re-designed to reduce delivery costs. These programs will be consistent with the ministry’s higher tolerance to risk and the move to landscape level planning.”
I received a five-part response to this one part question, the most definitive part being the following - “The MNR will not compromise on our mandate of ecosystem protection.”
This was followed by part 2, which was about how MNR service will be modernized: “Taking a risk-based approach would allow MNR to better prioritise decision-making and resource allocation within broader ecosystem considerations.”
That left me confused. Exactly how does a ‘risk-based approach’ relate to ‘higher tolerance to risk’?
This was followed by the standard spiel about holding public consultation before any changes are made. The answer concludes by saying that in the future the MNR will be focussing on “core business lines of fish and wildlife, endangered species protection, forestry, Crown land management, water, parks and protected areas, non-renewable resources, and public safety.
Aside from my own frustration at not being able to get a straight answer to my question – I still have no idea what risks will be more highly tolerated by the MNR - the last part of the ministry’s answer is simply not credible at all.
That list of core business lines is long, and there is strong evidence that those functions are already not being accomplished adequately, before the budget cuts take effect.
For example, there is only one conservation officer for Fisheries Zone 18, a massive region that encompasses most of Eastern Ontario and thousands of lakes and hunting lands. Fish and wildlife regulations can be flouted with impunity now.
When ministry officials came to talk to the local conservation community in Northbrook a few weeks ago the hall was full, and the talk in the hall was less about whether the regulations made sense and more about how the regulations were going to be enforced.
No statements about a new business plan and restructuring can mask the fact that the MNR is losing funding again and will be able to provide less rather than more protection to rural Ontario in the future.
Stewardship councils on the rocks
The MNR provides support for 46 stewardship councils in rural counties across the province. That funding is now under review
Stewardship councils, which are made up of volunteers with an interest in helping to maintain and learn about their local and regional ecosystems, have been in place for about 16 years. They were set up the last time the MNR underwent major cuts. The councils replaced some of the outreach functions of the MNR.
In Frontenac County, the council has about 20 members, including representatives from all of the four townships. Members bring their own interests to the council. With the help of Cam McCauley, an MNR employee who provides administrative support, and is adept at securing grant money from government and foundation sources, the council supports tree planting efforts, landowner efforts to prepare stewardship plans for their properties, fish spawning bed enhancement and more.
In recent years the council has forged a relationship with Frontenac County, producing the Naturally Rich Frontenacs booklet, and presented public talks on a host of species, including fishers, wolves, coyotes, bats, loons, and turtles.
While the council continues to meet each month, there is a feeling that it will soon face a fatal cut in support from the ministry.
An effort to save Stewardship Councils is being led by the Leeds Grenville Stewardship Council Chair Rhonda Elliott. She has started an online petition at the following url - www.gopetition.com/petitions/ontario-stewardship-councils-are-important-to-ontarians.html
When I contacted the ministry, I also asked them the following direct question about the future of Stewardship Councils. Will the stewardship councils be losing all ministry funding?
The answer could have been a yes or a no, but instead I received a three part answer.
Here it is:
- MNR will continue to have a presence in rural Ontario. Details regarding specific transfer payments still need to be worked out and finalized. MNR is committed to providing information as more details become available
- Our focus will be to engage in more strategic partnerships aligned to MNR’s core priorities and business needs, and establishing clear expectations and accountabilities for the funds provided.
- These changes are necessary to address the government’s financial realities so that the MNR can continue to better serve our clients and all Ontarians.
If anyone can make sense of the above please contact me. I think it implies that the stewardship councils are toast.
But what do I know?