Premier Doug Ford and his entire pre-election cabinet — at least those who ran — are returning to Queen’s Park, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see some changes in the look and feel of his executive council.
Elections create an opportunity for change, even when the incumbent political party is re-elected. A post-election reset could come in several fashions. It could come in the form of a shift in responsibility to give Ministers a fresh start with a new portfolio or it could be promoting a returning Member of Provincial Parliament to a cabinet post. It could also be as simple as taking advantage of the skillsets that come in with newly elected MPPs. All of these scenarios are possible, even likely, to play out when the new cabinet is sworn in on Friday (June 24).
It might not simply be musical chairs for MPPs though as it has been widely speculated that the chairs themselves may change. With an even stronger majority and more MPPs to choose from, it could mean a larger cabinet and the splitting of portfolios to make it happen. While this may just sound like internal politics for the governing party, where all the chips fall could become very relevant for anglers and hunters as there is good reason to believe that the ‘mega ministry’ of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF) could be ripe for a ministry split.
Below, we’re going to take a look at five reasons why it makes sense for natural resources to have a stand-alone provincial ministry:
It may seem trivial, but names really do matter. Branding has power, even for a government agency. Not only was ‘MNR’ synonymous with ‘government’ in rural and northern Ontario for decades, ‘natural resources’ stood alone as its own ministry and the ministry handle was recognized inside and outside our community. Today, natural resources is getting lost in the letters of a growing acronym. In less than a decade, the MNR has been renamed twice. It was rebranded as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) in 2014 and last June it was amalgamated with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to become NDMNRF. The new mega ministry is a mouthful and even the acronym NDMNRF doesn’t roll off the tongue. To top it off there still seems to be confusion about whether there should be an ‘M’ for Ministry. It’s a branding nightmare, so you can understand our concern that it will be increasingly hard for natural resources to get the political or public profile it deserves.
FUNCTION OVER FORM
The second reason is purely practical. Recent changes are often the easiest to reverse. It’s only been a year, meaning that there are fewer things that need to be walked back. While the amalgamation has required changes, they have mostly been limited to political portfolios, using resources that could be better focused elsewhere. The functioning of each ministry has appeared to remain mostly distinct and separate from each other. The most significant disentanglement would need to occur at the political level, which tends to be a much more fluid environment than the bureaucracy to begin with. The amalgamation remains under warranty, so an easy return is still possible.
A NATURAL SPLIT
Although northern development and mines were a part of the MNR for different periods in the 1970s and 80s, and again for a brief time in the mid-90s, they’ve spent even more time apart in the 50 years since the Department of Lands and Forests became MNR. So, there is precedence for this type of split. Resources have been historically lumped together, but the separation between renewable (think fishing, hunting, trapping, forestry) and non-renewable (think mining) resources has increased over the past five decades. The sustainable-use principles governing renewable resource management activities are an important distinction from non-renewable extraction and would certainly benefit from some separation.
ALIGNMENT WITHOUT AMALGAMATION
There are obvious linkages between natural resources and northern development, and we remain supportive of the government’s intentions with the 2021 amalgamation to think of fishing and hunting as an important sector for Ontario, particularly in northern Ontario. In many ways it fits with what we’ve been saying that there is a need for recognition of fishing and hunting for its contributions to a triple bottom line of economy, environment, and social benefits. Like any sector, fishing and hunting need strategy and investment for Ontario to realize the greatest possible return. We don’t believe, however, that fishing and hunting need to be lumped in with northern development in a single ministry to find that strategic alignment because we have yet to see tangible benefits from those associations.
The final reason is arguably the most important. When the amalgamation occurred, the OFAH expressed concerns about the potential for less political attention and focus on fishing and hunting. Following many years of natural resources falling down the priority ladder in terms of government funding and policy attention, we were concerned that an amalgamation would further contribute to that trend. We obviously want natural resources to have a strong presence on the landscape and carry as much weight as possible at the provincial cabinet table. The pre-election political portfolio of Minister Greg Rickford included NDMNRF, as well as Indigenous Affairs. Minister Rickford is an experienced northern MPP, held cabinet positions at both federal and provincial levels, and has been an advocate for fishing and hunting, but that is a massive portfolio and impossible workload for any single Minister. A more focused ministry would give the minister responsible a tighter mandate and afford them more time and energy to direct towards fishing and hunting.
What if it doesn’t happen?
Don’t get me wrong, undoing last year’s amalgamation isn’t our top priority. As you can see from our pre-election priorities, we already have our plates full and new issues are always emerging. We can certainly continue to pursue all of those priorities with the amalgamated Ministry, and we will while pushing for natural resources to actually reap the unrealized but intended benefits of an inter-ministry connection with northern development and mines. Regardless of how Cabinet shapes up on Friday, the OFAH will continue to push the government for more focus, greater provincial investment in fishing and hunting, policy improvements, and better services for anglers and hunters. Those priorities will never change.