Sunday, July 02, 2006



Mr. Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. Minister, you will know that last week there was a press conference here, sponsored by myself, in regard to the drastic cut in MNR seasonal staff and full-time staff who maintain our provincial parks in the province of Ontario. As you know, provincial parks are some of the places where Ontarians and others love to holiday, and especially for those with little income it's probably the only holiday they'll get.

I want to point out something that was in this press conference that I thought was interesting. It said, "`MNR is wiping out the equivalent of 226 full-time summer jobs out of a total of 1,189 seasonal and regular student workers,' said OPSEU president Leah Casselman. `It's atrocious. We thought cuts of this magnitude were gone with Mike Harris.'" People voted for change. Why are you acting like Mike Harris?

Hon. David Ramsay (Minister of Natural Resources, minister responsible for aboriginal affairs): Thanks for the compliment, there, at the end your question. I have to say to the member, in the context of your question, you really set up my answer, because I do appreciate that the provincial parks system is how many Ontarians of low income access the wonderful natural resources of Ontario. We have kept the costs down this year to what they were the year before, yet we have higher operating costs in energy and other expenses all the way through the park system. But I want to make sure that the Ontario parks system, being one of the best in the world, is accessible to everyone in this province.

Mr. Bisson: Listen, Minister, you can say all you want about reducing the amount of money spent year over year in provincial parks. The reality is that you're going to have far less staff maintaining our parks from the perspective of making sure those parks are well maintained so that we don't have garbage lying around and others, but there's also the issue of health and safety when it comes to those people visiting the parks. The fact is that you're reducing park staff by almost 20% over last year. I asked you a specific question: Why are you doing this? People did vote for change. You're acting just like Mike Harris did. When are you going to start acting as you were supposed to after the last election, and not like Mike Harris?

Hon. Mr. Ramsay: As the member knows, the parks system is one of two special-purpose accounts in the Ontario government, the other being revenues from angling and hunting. In that special-purpose account we're basically at a point where we're very close to being break-even now on the parks revenues coming in to operate those parks. We're trying to manage within that budget. Again I stay to the member that with increasing costs coming to the parks system, I think you'd be the first on your feet to criticize me if all of a sudden I had a large increase in camping fees that might make it prohibitive for many Ontario families to enter our parks system. So we're going to keep the fees down, and reasonable and affordable so that all Ontarians can access the Ontario provincial parks system.


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