Picture a child coming out of a tent at dawn and seeing
a blue heron for the first time. Picture a couple of seniors watching the sun
set over a lake. Picture yourself on a sunny beach, or sitting around a campfire
Thatís the Ontario park experience at its best.
But when people meet nature, nature sometimes needs a
little protection. Thatís where park staff enter the picture.
Provincial park staff do the things that make your park
experience richer. And we protect nature at the same time.
Most Ontario park staff are members of the Ontario
Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). We are the natural heritage educators
who teach park visitors what nature is up to. We are the park wardens who
keep our parks safe and enjoyable Ė for people, plants and animals. We are the
maintenance staff who clean bathrooms, pick up garbage, maintain trails,
and cut down the dead trees that pose a hazard to campers. We are the
administrative staff who help you find a campsite, buy supplies, and find
your way around.
All of us our involved, personally, in protecting our
natural environment. But we can do better.
Ontario can do better.
On April 24, 2007, the Environmental Commissioner of
Ontario released an earth-shaking report called Doing Less with Less.
Commissioner Gord Miller said that, in real terms, the budget of the Ministry of
the Environment (MoE) was 34 per cent lower in 2006-07 than it was in 1992-93.
The budget of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), which includes provincial
parks, was 18 per cent lower over the same period.
These numbers, shocking as they are, hide even worse
numbers. As funding has fallen, the workload of both ministries has grown.
The provincial parks budget for 2007 is 23 per cent
higher, in real terms, than it was in 1992-93, the Commissioner said. Sounds
good. But over that period, the amount of land in the parks system has jumped 51
per cent. And the number of provincial parks and conservation reserves has
jumped 138 per cent.
Provincial park funding pressures,
1992-93 to 2007-8
Ontario now has 329 parks, 292 conservation reserves,
and 10 wilderness areas. These areas cover nine per cent of the province. Yet
out of a total parks operating budget of $68.7 million, the province contributes
just $15.3 million.
It is no exaggeration to say that the provincial
government has simply walked away from our parks system. Almost all of the
funding for parks Ė 78 per cent Ė now comes from park user fees. This is the
highest (i.e., the worst) of any province in Canada. And according to a 2002 MNR
study, all U.S. states but three are better.
Park cost recovery rates
(percentage of park costs not funded
by tax dollars)
In 2005, user fees for Ontario parks jumped. In 2006,
the province cut summer park staff. In 2007, user fees jumped again.
Itís time to stop the insanity. Itís time to fund our
The Environmental Commissionerís report states that,
according to the MNR, our parks generate $390 million in economic activity and
14,000 person-years of employment for Ontario. A 2001 MNR report held an even
more interesting statistic. That report estimated that the parks generated at
least $41 million in provincial tax revenue. That was seven years ago. Even if
those taxes only kept pace with inflation, that number would be $46 million
Provincial funding vs. park-related
In other words, the province gets three dollars out of
our parks for every dollar it puts in.
Environmental concerns are
now very high on the public agenda. Itís time Ė now, in 2007 Ė to give new life
to our provincial parks, conservation reserves, and wilderness areas.
In 2006, the McGuinty
government passed a new Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. The new
law has received praise from many conservation groups, but without funding to
protect our wild places, the new law is a toothless guard-dog that wonít make a
bit of difference.
OPSEU is calling on the
Ontario government to triple its contribution to park operating budgets. This
will bring the MNRís contribution up from $15.3 million to $46 million Ė roughly
what the government gets in taxes from park activities.
Assuming no change in
existing user fees, this new funding would boost the annual parks budget by 45
The best use of this money?
More staff. More park wardens to patrol wilderness areas and keep campgrounds
and day-use areas safe. More natural heritage educators to teach our children
about our planet and our place on it. More maintenance staff to keep our parks
clean and enjoyable. More staff to help with reservations, directions, and
Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Doing Less with
Less: How shortfalls in budget, staffing and in-house expertise are
hampering the effectiveness of MOE and MNR (April 24, 2007), pp.
Ontario Ministry of Finance, Expenditure Estimates of the Province of
Ontario for the Fiscal year ending March 31, 2008, Ministry of Natural
Resources, p. 13.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources document released under the
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MNR Reference
Number A-2006-00051), Aug. 2, 2006.
Estimate based on Mulrooney, Dan, and Clarke, Lisa, The Economic
Impact of Ontario Parks: A Summary Report for Fiscal 2000/01.
Ontario Parks Planning and Research, Ministry of Natural Resources,
November 2002. The report estimates that the economic activity generated
by provincial parks provides $125 million a year in tax revenues for all
levels of government, including $41 million for the provincial
government. Adjusting for inflation, this number would be $46 million in