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Monday, February 27, 2012

Austerity

AUSTERITY


It seems that the word of the week is austerity. Austerity may just become the word which defines the decade. If any attention is payed to the news at all one cannot help but hear that austerity is that which engulfs the first world. 
The firestorm raging in Greece is fueled by the imminent imposition of severe austerity. The EU is demanding it, the IMF is insisting on it. The Greek parliament is with one hand ensuring the EU it can implement it and with the other fighting the public as it tries to enforce it. 
In Canada we have the debate surrounding Old Age Security (OAS) and what will become of it in the not so distant future. Austerity might just become a way of life for those hoping to retire over the next couple of decades.

But even closer to home, specifically for those of us in Ontario, last week saw the release of the Drummond Report. Essentially, if Ontario does not reduce its spending, there will be no more money to spend. Cutbacks are essential. If most departments do not reduce costs due to less funding sent their way, all programs, social and infrastructure related will be cut or severely reduced.

Rob Ford saw what the threat of imposed austerity can cause. I don’t fear the same kind of backlash in the province though. Dalton McGuinty will not be making cuts that tug on the heartstrings of the general public. Cuts will be made, there’s no doubt there, but these cuts will be made to seem unnoticeable, they will appear innocuous, harming few,  limiting performance abilities of none. Appeasing the masses. Or so it will seem. 
Make no mistake, funding for provincial programs will be reduced, it’s inevitable, but also necessary. So where will these cuts happen, to which ministries? All one needs to do is look at past provincial budgets and follow the patterns.


The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is just such an example.

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The MNR operating budget for 1993/1992 was $795 million. By the 2010/2011 budget that number had been reduced to $620 million. That’s a reduction of just over 22%. Of that $620 million only $400 million is budgeted through taxes directly funded by the provincial coffers. The remainder is revenue derived from hunting and fishing licenses, park admissions and other user fees. 
When considering that the province’s revenue for 2010/2011 was $106 billion the MNR received 0.45% of the provinces operating expenses. The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) 0.31%. By comparison the Ministry for Tourism and Culture received 0.55%
So if a drop of 22% in operating expenses has been justifiable over the past ten years, the first five of which were certainly not as lean as the five to come, were will we find the cross hairs of austerity aimed this time? The MNR certainly seams down range.
Whether we agree with the upcoming austerity measures or not, where they will happen or the reasoning for them, they are unavoidable. If you feel, as I do, that the MNR should not be subject to these cuts you certainly can voice your concerns to your local MPP. I have my suspicions though that little will come of that. Let’s face it, there is no extra money. And taking it from health care, or education, which account for 37.57% and 17.97% respectively of the provincial budget, is not going to happen.    
The province’s natural resources, its forests, lakes and rivers, and its wildlife are all indicators. The mammals, the birds, the fish, the reptiles and amphibians that inhabit the streams and lakes, woodlands and farmlands of Ontario are collectively the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The state of the resources the MNR is entrusted with managing forecasts the quality of our own existence. The MNR’s results portend to our own future. Investing in our future must always continue. But right now those investments are dwindling. 
Without proper funding many vital programs that fall under the jurisdiction of the MNR will suffer. Invading Species Awareness, further research into the spread of Hemorrhagic Septicemia, Chronic Wasting Disease and White Nose Syndrome. All programs instituted to strengthen native flora and fauna, all programs that the general public does not find fashionable and read barely a blip on the mainstream medias’ radar.  
Ontario created a plan to plant 50 million trees between 2007 and 2020. Will this program fall to austerity measures? Climate change is high in the public’s mind but how many of the province’s citizens were aware of this project to help curb global warming? Canceling or reducing this goal would warrant little explanation and gather even less press.
Even programs one might expect to be administered by other government offices could easily be cut. Community and health issues such as “Safety in the Woods,” “Be Bear Wise,” rabies control and enforcement will all see a reduction in operating costs, all with little fanfare. 
If funding is not forthcoming through government channels, it must come from elsewhere.
How then, with unavoidable cuts, can we assure funding for these programs continue? Money of course is the solution. And if government funding is not possible then private resources will be necessary. Support companies and businesses that contribute to conservation programs. Buy products from environmentally responsible corporations. Give your custom to those that donate a portion of their profit to worthwhile causes.
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The best thing one can do in Ontario though, is to join the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH). Established in 1928, since then the OFAH has been advocating responsible use and management of the province’s natural resources. Its work with all levels of government has also ensured that not only the membership, but also all the province’s population is guaranteed access to those resources.   




80% of all funds raised, through memberships, donations and profit from products, goes directly to the many programs the OFAH promotes and administers. Reintroduction of native species, restoration of environmentally sensitive areas, the promotion of outdoor and conservation opportunities for all that live in the province, and ensuring accessibility for anyone wishing to enjoy them, are but a few of the causes the OFAH is dedicated to.
A regular adult membership will cost less than a tank of gas, a family membership is far cheaper than an evening out at the movies! Joining while a promotion is running and paying far less than double the standard membership fee gets you $200 worth of hunting or fishing tackle donated by some of the Federation’s generous corporate sponsors. It’s money well spent, it’s insurance that work by the OFAH will continue and the province’s resources will be available and enjoyed by future generations.
Austerity is here to stay. It’s a foregone conclusion. Spending must decrease and certain government programs are bound to suffer. Unfortunately we have little say as individuals as to where those cuts should happen. But if we channel some of our own money into groups such as the OFAH we can be confident that there will be a voice, an effort and a little extra funding aimed at healing the cuts and reducing the slashes being made to protecting and sustaining the province’s natural resources and our traditional rights to enjoy them.       

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