By Peter Epp, Postmedia Network
A lack of transparency in how provincial revenue is raised and how it is spent has been a consistent complaint from some Ontario residents. Collectively, they contribute millions of dollars in fees and other government “revenue tools” (as Premier Kathleen Wynne has called them), but how that money is spent is sometimes a mystery.
Especially irritating is the knowledge the money is not always being spent as promised – as members of the Aylmer Stakeholders Committee have found.
The group represents 1,400 landowners, hunters and farmers in Southwestern Ontario, and had applied to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for $10,000 to evaluate deer populations in the MNR’s wildlife zone that takes in Elgin, Middlesex and Oxford counties.
It seemed like a reasonable request. The Stakeholders’ members and other anglers and hunters pay licensing fees to the MNR every year that amount to $75 million. That money is to be spent on wildlife management and to improve angling and hunting in Ontario. To spend $10,000 on a deer study – from a special fund enriched with millions of dollars collected from hunters and anglers – would appear to be an appropriate way to spend that cash.
But the Stakeholders’ request was denied. And so they wanted to know how those millions of dollars in fees were being spent. They were compelled to file a freedom of information request, and after several years of delay were astonished to discover that money from the fund had, in 2011-2012, been used to buy and sell a house ($65,000), pay for rental accommodations ($4,000), and for psychologists’ services ($12,251).
The MNR has defended those expenses, saying staff salaries and benefits for staff that perform fish and wildlife management are paid from that account.
That sounds somewhat plausible – yet the MNR had, at one point, fallen five years behind in publishing an annual report on that special fund, while continuing to rake in millions of dollars in fees from Ontario’s anglers and hunters.
The hunters can’t be blamed for believing that information has been hidden from them. They’re not the only ones wearing camouflage.
Jeff Yurek, the MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London, has proposed a bill to tighten rules about how such fee money is spent, but it’s been defeated. Among other things, Yurek’s bill would have created an advisory committee and avenue for hunters and anglers to inquire about spending.
The problem is a lack of transparency – or too much camouflage on the MNR’s part.
– Peter Epp