Serving the public is not
on MNR's agenda
The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, February 05, 2007
Re: When cuts become silly, Jan. 31.
Kelly Egan's column demonstrates why the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources needs an overhaul from top to bottom.
After more than three dozen Freedom of Information Act
applications following the debacle the MNR carried out at the
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre in 2002, the evidence shows that
serving the public is simply not on this ministry's agenda.
The gas money that is no longer available to conservation
officers has no doubt been hived off to the ministry's bogus
wildlife-disease initiatives. A handful of wildlife researchers
have been able to propel rabies operations and research into a
major industry that keeps the career scientists in jobs and the
vaccine and bait businesses happy.
Taxpayers would be shocked to learn how much has been spent
to sustain these efforts -- all for the least-risk disease in
North America, thanks to pet vaccination. The MNR rabies
research and development unit, housed at Trent University, even
has its own public-relations person, churning out press releases
about a research program that should have been put to bed years
And if the politicians finally cotton onto the rabies scam,
then MNR wildlife staff have the newest bug du jour waiting --
avian flu or perhaps chronic wasting disease.
It doesn't matter that neither of these exist in Ontario
because, with enough fear-mongering, they can surely raise the
profile sufficiently to keep the funds flowing. Meanwhile, the
conservation officers are left with the serious task of
harassing people caring for orphaned deer or baby squirrels.
The Ministry of Natural Resources had the choice 15 years
ago, given changing demographics, to expand its client group,
which is solely based on harvesting interests, to include the
broader community and the growing interest in non-consumptive
I was involved in a public consultation established by the
MNR in 1990 that produced a wildlife strategy for Ontario,
calling for such changes. It was widely rejected by MNR staff
and was shelved.
It is hard to be terribly sympathetic with the plight of MNR
staff. It is easier to be sorry for the public, given the damage
done by this ministry and the lack of government oversight that
has caused it.
Donna DuBreuil, Ottawa
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre
Re: When cuts become silly, Jan. 31.
What a wonderful article and unfortunately, how true! Yet as
outrageous as this may appear, it is really only the tip of the
iceberg when it comes to the MNR.
Although I am not an Ottawa area resident, as a former
wildlife (rehabilitator) custodian, I have been following the
BAM-BAM situation very closely. Former, because I feel that I
can not provide humane and responsible rehabilitation under the
current regulations. Be it BAM BAM, issues pertaining to the the
Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, or the closure of the
Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre, these actions along with the
respective allocation of funds within the ministry's departments
clearly demonstrates a lack of interest or commitment to the
preservation and rehabilitation of wildlife at all levels. And
wildlife rehabilitation doesn't even have a financial impact on
the MNR's fiscal resources!
The MNR continues to pour millions of dollars into rabies
research even though Mr. Ramsay himself has stated in writing
that "Ontario does have a low public health risk". In reality
according to pharmaceutical companies that produce rabies
vaccines, the medical threat is almost nonexistent. Yet in the
same document, Mr. Ramsay also states "In June 2004, the
committee confirmed it continued support for the policies and
practices of the MNR rabies program."
If wildlife is truly a concern of the MNR, it's time for this
government to start walking the talk. Let's see if the Premier
gets involved in this one!
(London Ontario area)
When cuts become silly
Natural Resources staff can't even leave offices
The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
What on earth is going on with the Ministry of Natural
A tipster tells me the department is so woefully underfunded
that its conservation officers are stuck in their offices for
weeks at a time because there's no money to gas up their trucks.
Sounds preposterous. It is, however, very close to the truth.
Wild kingdom, indeed.
Conservation officers in two offices in Eastern Ontario
report that, during the last fiscal year, they've spent weeks
grounded in their offices, except for outright emergencies.
Jeff Bendig has been a conservation officer for 12 years, the
last few in Kemptville. He is president of a local of the
Ontario Public Service Employees Union. He was careful to say he
is speaking in that capacity and not on behalf of the ministry.
During the last seven months, he says, there has been a
series of restrictions on how much, and what kind of patrolling
the conservation officers can do. Recall that these officers are
responsible for enforcing Ontario fish and game laws and act as
a visible deterrent to violators. They aren't smiley-faced
students at provincial campsites -- they're the cops chasing
poachers through the woods.
In August, says Mr. Bendig, the officers were told they had
sufficient funds to patrol about 1,200 kilometres a month, on
average -- about half the former amount -- and only on priority
In September came more restrictions. At the end of November
came the hammer: the ministry was nearly out of money for
enforcement. Until further notice, officers were limited to
joint patrols, court commitments and following up on ongoing
Only serious public safety complaints, and those dealing with
real threats to a species, would be investigated, and only on
approval from a supervisor.
This continued through December and January.
"It means that three of us are sitting in the office, and
have been for over a month, and it's looking like we'll be here
till April 1," said Mr. Bendig.
So far, he reports, there has been enough paperwork to do. He
is plowing through what he describes as a "four-inch" binder
that serves as a manual for prosecutions.
Much has been made of the ministry's 1-800 tips line, which
gathers complaints around the clock about infractions in Ontario
"There have been a large number of complaints that have come
in on that line and simply haven't been responded to," Mr.
A conservation officer in another depot in Eastern Ontario
had much the same story. It should be added, too, that many are
worried about speaking out publicly, for fear of being
The officer said an edict went out in the middle of last
March to stop patrols. This continued for several weeks, only to
see officers eventually given a $100 weekly cap for gas, meals
and cellphone expenses. It was enough money for a day or two of
patrolling, he said.
Then it got worse. He said last August, the detachment
conservation officers did not do any patrols for the whole
month. He admits there has been a fair bit of idle time during
the last year. "If you're not responding and you're not
patrolling, what else can you do? It drives us crazy."
It would be convenient to dismiss these concerns as nothing
more than union fear-mongering, dedicated to preserving jobs and
giving conservation officers more perks at public expense.
But listen to Robert Pye, a communications co-ordinator for
the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, hardly a
"This is beyond hearsay and rhetoric. This is a fact that the
MNR is in a lot of trouble."
It, too, has heard stories of conservation officers all over
Ontario being told to park their vehicles for extended periods.
The federation has many other concerns about MNR operations.
"The fish and wildlife program," said Mr. Pye, "is
Andrew Houser is a former ministry director of fish and
wildlife and the author of an analysis of ministry spending. Mr.
Houser concluded the program needs $120 million to operate
properly this year, more than $40 million more than it actually
To make matters worse, about 75 per cent of its $78-million
allocation actually comes from fees charged to hunters,
fishermen and trappers, Mr. Houser said. It is, he wrote, "a
It isn't just gas in trucks. Late last year, the federation
joined with a number of groups to take over the Ringwood Fish
Culture Station, northeast of Stouffville, after a cut in
provincial funds threatened to close it.
"This is not just a fishing and hunting issue. It's an issue
for anyone who cares about our natural resources," said Mr. Pye.
In December, ministry workers in North Bay and Hearst held
symbolic bake sales to raise money to keep the ministry afloat
and keep trucks on the road. Funny, if it weren't sad.
Add to this the spectacle of Bam-Bam, the found fawn that was
raised by a couple near Greely, then seized in a raid by the
ministry in December, then returned by Premier Dalton McGuinty
as a goodwill gesture just before Christmas. Nice PR move. Now,
will he ever get the ministry's real story one day?
Contact Kelly Egan at 613-726-5896 or by e-mail,
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007