Austerity agenda endangers Ontario’s natural wilderness: OPSEU

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Saving jobs by freezing wages?  Hardly!  124 full time jobs lost from the gutting of the Ministry of Natural Resources.

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Austerity agenda endangers Ontario’s natural wilderness: OPSEU

The gutting of the Ministry of Natural Resources has accelerated and the real victims will be future generations of Ontarians who, thanks to the latest round of budget cuts courtesy of the McGuinty government, will scarcely recognize the province’s once rugged charm and beauty.

“Dalton McGuinty has tossed his so-called ‘green agenda’ into the trash can,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “And with it, the preservation of Ontario’s natural geographic wilderness can now be found in a category titled ‘endangered.’

“This should be of grave concern to all Ontarians and to the millions of out-of-province tourists who visit us precisely because of our wilderness spaces and the amenities they provide to nature lovers.”

Thomas was responding to this week’s announcement by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s to dramatically reduce the number of provincial parks available for overnight camping, a move that includes elimination of the widely-admired Ontario Ranger Program and all visitor services in the affected parks.

In all, this latest attack by Duncan on provincial public services will mean 124 positions, including 102 seasonal employees, will be axed.

Thomas said the loss of the Ontario Ranger Program was especially disturbing. The 68-year summer work experience program (formerly called Junior Rangers) introduced thousands of teens to Ontario’s wilderness, thereby building respect for the outdoors and fostering stewardship of the province’s natural resources.

Duncan’s actions demonstrate his profound indifference to the findings contained in last year’s report by Ontario’s Environment Commissioner. In it, Commissioner Gord Miller harshly criticized the Liberal government for slashing funding to the Ministry of Natural Resources to levels not seen since 1992. The report said that MNR operational funding is 22 per cent less today than it was 20 years ago.

The ongoing devastation of the MNR operating budget comes at a time when the province is aggressively promoting mineral exploitation in the Far North, like the ambitious Ring of Fire.

“More than ever we need the MNR to serve as a watchdog and a custodian of our natural resources in the face of mining industry,” said Thomas. “Instead of gutting the Ministry’s budget, we should be putting more resources into protection of our natural habitats that could be permanently scarred by mining interests.

“The finance minister had the audacity to say these cutbacks at MNR will be achieved in the name of preserving our public services,” he added.. “This would be comical if it weren’t so sad. It’s double-speak of the highest order.”

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