Kapuskasing mayor Alan Spacek is optimistic that an October 18 meeting between Northern Ontario’s mayors and Natural Resources Minister Michael Gravelle will lead to changes in the government’s decision to reduce services in 10 provincial parks. The group presented a report to the minister that compiled park usage data from the MNR website, and Spacek expressed concerns about how Gravelle presented the government’s return on investment figures.
“Gravelle talked about a return on investment of 35 cents per dollar for some of the parks closed, but he played with the numbers and used the lowest return as a stand-in for all of them,” Spacek said. “Many have an ROI of 60 to 65 cents per dollar invested, [so] the decision wasn’t about reducing the financial burden on the ministry budget because that is possible without closing parks.”
According to Spacek’s usage figures, at least five of the parks that have been closed break even, while some even turn a profit. Any parks that are draining the public purse could simply be held in abeyance until profitable, Spacek suggested.
If the ministry moves forward with Gravelle’s plan, it would be to save $100,000 per park per year for a total annual savings of $1-million dollars, which is clearly not enough of a reason for Spacek and the northern residents he has spoken with on this issue. “Northern Ontario doesn’t have a lot of publically funded amenities, and to do all this for $1-million a year makes you wonder what really motivated this decision,” he said. Spacek noted the parks closure announcement came on Sept. 27, the last day of Ontario Northland train service from Cochrane to Toronto before the government announced plans to divest itself of the northern railway.
“People are livid,” Spacek says. "Our public meetings on the issue are all standing room only. NDP MPP Gilles Bisson told a meeting here recently that in all his years in provincial politics, he has never seen this level of northern frustration with the government.”
Also troubling is the fact that there is now a 700-km stretch along the TransCanada highway in Northeastern Ontario where residents and tourists can no longer access an overnight provincial park. Likewise, Spacek raised concern over where northern campers would set up RV’s for the summer, but was confident about where they would go now that 500 overnight spots had been eliminated.
“People won’t stop camping because of this,” he said. “They will simply set up their trailers on crown land, where they are allowed to set up for 21 days at a time. They’ll just shift around, but this increases the waste being dumped on crown land or the risk of forest fires not held in proper fire pits.”
Spacek worries about the impact to Northern Ontario’s tourism economy, noting that provincial parks were a primary destination for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation during the summer. Moreover, the trickle-down impacts of fewer tourists could be felt by outdoor shops selling hunting and fishing licenses and gear, as well as grocery stores and restaurants.
“These parks are fundamental to our way of life,” Spacek said.
Will a last-ditch effort by northern mayors have an impact on a government determined to find every penny to pay down a $14.4-billion deficit? Spacek said the minister would get back to him within a few weeks, and he may. But Gravelle’s resolve to streamline efficiencies across his ministry and the tough fiscal realities of Ontario in 2012 indicate that the mayor’s report may have fallen on deaf ears.
The Current Events blog focuses on a wide array of environmental current events in Canada, ranging from issues of politics and public policy to energy, natural resources, and environmental science.
Andrew is a freelance environmental writer and reporter based in Toronto with a Masters in Geography from the University of Toronto. When he's not writing he's usually cycling around town, thinking about what to write next. Andrew's posts appear every Thursday.
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