It’s election eve in Ontario. Tomorrow, many will go to the polls to cast their ballots in the provincial election.
Although a short campaign period didn’t leave much time to get responses back from political parties to our election questionnaire, we did receive three responses – from the Ontario Liberal Party, the Ontario Party, and the Ontario New Democratic Party.
If you weren’t one of the million-plus Ontarians who cast a ballot at advance polls and your vote remains undecided, a quick comparison of the responses we received may help make up your mind.
In an ideal world, we would be able to paint a full picture of what each party has committed to when it comes to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors, but we can’t do that. Not all parties responded, and those that did, didn’t always answer our questions directly. It isn’t ideal, but it’s what we’ve got, so let’s get into it.
Question 1: Will you increase Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry’s (NDMNRF) Fish & Wildlife budget by increasing Consolidated Revenue Fund investments to match the contributions anglers, hunters, and trappers make through the Fish & Wildlife Special Purpose Account?
What we wanted: The OFAH is looking for the province to pony up matching funds for those contributed by anglers and hunters because that was the plan when the SPA was created. Over the years, increasing separation between the level of contributions saw the SPA funding 2/3 of the NDMNRF’s Fish & Wildlife budget.
What they said:
Liberals: “…will review provincial budget commitments to the NDMNRF”
Ontario Party: “…would invest appropriately in the Fish & Wildlife budget”
NDP: “New Democrats have long raised the issue of cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (now Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry) that have led to a lack of resources to adequately monitor and protect Ontario’s natural resources and wildlife, including the failure to collect on millions of dollars in fines will ensure that the Ministry has the funding and resources to do its job properly…We have long advocated that any funds collected under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act should be used for fish and wildlife conservation, and an NDP will ensure that these funds are only used for its intended purposes.”
Question 2: If elected, what concrete actions will your government take to promote fishing and hunting, and enhance the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of anglers and hunters in Ontario?
What we wanted: We want the government to celebrate fishing and hunting and give it the attention, investment, and strategy it deserves – all of which are currently severely lacking. For many years, it was challenging to get a provincial government to talk about hunting in a positive way or even talk about it at all. Things have improved in recent years, but it remains limited to the NDMNRF and investments are well below what is needed for meaningful improvements to recruitment, retention, and reactivation to maintain a strong hunting community in Ontario. The government has always been more open to promoting fishing, but like hunting it is well below what it should be to take advantage of the colossal potential for sustainable growth. With a renewed interest in the outdoors, sustainably-sourced protein, and all of the other mental, social, and physical health benefits these activities offer, we wanted to see parties recognize the potential for massive environmental, economic, and social returns with modest investments. Maintaining the current generation and securing future generations is critical to fish and wildlife conservation in Ontario.
What they said:
Liberals: “…would work closely with OFAH to identify challenges related to recruitment, retention and reactivation of anglers and hunters in the province. Our government commits to being a resource and partner to ensure the vitality of Ontario’s angling and hunting community to promote conservation efforts while making sure that a streamlined pathway exists to getting more hunters and anglers out into nature.”
Ontario Party: “…it’s extremely important that the next generation has the opportunity to experience the outdoors just as we did growing up – and I believe we have a real opportunity to expand interest in fishing and hunting by launching special rural-urban exchange programs designed to get youth out of high density urban zones and into the wilderness of Ontario to experience hunting and fishing first-hand… would work with industry stakeholders like OFAH to ensure we are tailoring our programs to spark a new renaissance for our outdoors here in Ontario. We are blessed with bountiful resources, so we should also be teaching conservation to our youth so we can continue to enjoy some of the most abundant hunting and fishing grounds of anywhere in the world.”
NDP: “…help ensure…that our local outdoor tourism industries are promoted in what has been a number of challenging years…will build on the work of the OFAH, and others, to help the province’s struggling tourism sector. Our plan includes partnering with industry to promote the unique experiences Ontario has to offer. We’ll extend the Staycation Tax Credit, and make available a second round of funding through the Tourism Recovery Program.”
Question 3: What infrastructure investments will you make that will improve accessibility to the outdoors for the people of Ontario? (i.e., access to Crown land roads, public boat launches and parking, and fishing access points).
What we wanted: We want the government to invest in the creation and maintenance of critical infrastructure that helps the people of Ontario access the outdoors. That could be public boat launches and associated parking for vehicles and trailers to access Ontario waters or other shoreline infrastructure like docks, piers, and fishing nodes that make fishing accessible. Along with many municipalities, Indigenous communities, and industry associations, the OFAH has been asking the government to increase funding for the Forest Access Roads Program to unlock Crown lands for anglers and hunters.
What they said:
Liberals: “…would also expand access to recreational water infrastructure and will work closely with municipalities and Indigenous communities to protect and restore Ontario’s rivers, lakes, wetlands and watersheds, expanding access for a variety of recreational uses.”
Ontario Party: “…will ensure that access to Crown Land roads is improved as much as possible, and we would work with municipalities to create more public boat launches and parking, as well as publicly accessible fishing access points (like community-run special zones on major waters, with special funding available and managed through groups like OFAH.) We will also maintain existing public access points as well, as they are under threat right now..”
NDP: No comments on access to the outdoors.
Question 4: Please outline what specific investment or policy actions you would take to support fishing and hunting, and fish and wildlife conservation in Ontario.
What we wanted: This was an opportunity for parties to address some of our specific topics in the OFAH’s 2022 Provincial Election Priorities document that they weren’t specifically asked about in our questionnaire. This included invasive species, the Great Lakes, community conservation, Lyme Disease, big game management, chronic wasting disease, hunting in parks, FMZ councils, fisheries management, climate change, and many others.
What they said:
Liberals: “We understand that Ontarians – particularly anglers and hunters – love the province’s vast natural environment. We’ll reverse the Ford Conservatives’ changes to legislation that make 1 it easier to pave over natural land. And we’ll also strengthen the powers of Ontario’s Conservation Authorities to further protect green spaces and prevent flooding. We’ll restore and expand natural infrastructure like wetlands and forests through a new $250 million annual fund for municipalities. An Ontario Liberal government will also work closely with municipalities and Indigenous communities to protect and restore Ontario’s rivers, lakes, wetlands and watersheds.”
Ontario Party: “Hunters and anglers care about the outdoors and go to great lengths to ensure they enjoy these recreational pastimes in a responsible way – we must instill this respect for the outdoors in our youth and expose others to the excited that comes with angling and hunting. So, specialized programs targeting youth to get them outdoors would be key. We also need to maintain and expand access to publicly available fishing spots; this will be accomplished through public/private projects. Focus is continually needed to address the issue of invasive species, and the Ontario Party would greatly enhance existing measures on invasive species management to further protect and conserve our incredible resources for hunting and angling. Although not an invasive species, we would also heavily invest in a strategy to combat CWD in cervid species, since the issue appears to be getting worse and we have a lot of concern with how bad it could get here in Ontario that we have heard from the hunting community as well as concerned biologists.”
NDP: “We’ll restore local control over Conservation Areas and protect forests and other ecologically sensitive areas…NDP incumbent candidate, the long-time MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, and avid hunter, Mike Mantha, continues to call for a provincial Lyme Disease Strategy. An Ontario NDP will implement such a strategy.”
Question 5: Would you commit to investing in the OFAH-NDMNRF programs at levels that are equal to or greater than what is occurring now?
What we wanted: The OFAH has many partnerships with the NDMNRF to carry out important conservation and outreach work, including the Invading Species Awareness Program (ISAP), the Community Hatchery Program, and Ontario Family Fishing Events. These programs are essential for fish and wildlife conservation, and to maintain the public awareness and interest in outdoor activities needed to sustain fish and wildlife management and resource-based economies in Ontario. Funding for some OFAH programs has been reduced in recent years, while others have remained static at levels that have not kept up with inflation and/or the growing needs of the programs. Programs like ISAP have decades of partnership experience with the Government of Ontario and have leveraged as much as two dollars for each TPA dollar invested, as well as a massive audience reach with tens of millions of impressions and millions of dollars in media value. These partnerships aren’t simply spending; they are investments with huge returns. They shouldn’t be viewed as an expendable line item to help balance the provincial budget.
What they said:
Liberals: “Yes, our government would review all provincial programming caps put in place the Ford Conservatives. The Ontario Liberal Party believes in investing in people, programs and our natural environment.”
Ontario Party: “Given the level of debt & deficit spending incurred by the Ford government (and the Liberals before him) the first order of business would be to strategically review all government spending to attempt to get our deficit in order; however the promise would be to maintain equal funding across the board for all OFAH-NDMNRF programming, given the huge importance of these programs to the future wellbeing of our outdoors, for all hunters and anglers across the province. I promise we would maintain funding, with an eye towards increasing it if possible, following a deficit reduction review mechanism.”
NDP: No comments on OFAH-NDMNRF partnership programs.
So, who should anglers and hunters vote for?
I can’t tell you how to vote and there is no way to draw clear lines from how the parties responded to OFAH priorities. Even if there were, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to push one party over another. As a charity, the OFAH is required to be non-partisan by law, so we don’t have a horse in this race. Even if we could be partisan, it wouldn’t make sense for our organization. Power in politics is fleeting, but the need for our political influence for fish and wildlife conservation and fishing and hunting is constant. We can’t afford to go four, eight, or 12 years without meaningful political dialogue and influence.
Another reason I won’t tell you how to vote is that there are no clear winners from the responses we received. The comparison above shows that no party responded in a way that matches exactly what we are looking for across all our priorities. That certainly isn’t surprising. We ask for a lot and across a wide range of interests, and each party may consider themselves to be a leader over others on one more topics, while having little to no interest in other priorities we raise. And the commitments that one party makes may check all of the boxes for one OFAH member and none for another. There is a large range of interests among anglers and hunters, and each individual prioritizes them a little differently.
How to interpret campaign promises and non-responses
There are some other things to consider, too. Some of our asks require money, policy changes, or both. A campaign commitment might be easier or harder for a particular party depending on their potential to form government, and whether there is an existing ‘party line’ to follow – after all, not many parties go into an election campaign with specific policies or platforms that cover our fishing and hunting interests. They don’t tend to be ballot issues. That means that a non-response could be a ‘no’, but not always. If the responses you read didn’t seem to connect with the OFAH questions, it could be that, 1) the party doesn’t have a policy on it, 2) it is a political deflection or dodge, or 3) it is a lack of understanding about what anglers and hunters are truly looking for.
It could also be all the above.
What will the OFAH do with these party responses?
We always want to see firm campaign commitments from all parties on our priorities, but as an organization, an election is just the beginning of OFAH advocacy. Our priorities document and party questionnaire are as much about raising awareness of our interests as it is about getting firm commitments. We use the pre-election period as an opportunity to make our interests known, take stock of political leanings, identify misinterpretations of our priorities or appropriate strategies to tackle them, and ultimately build strategies for how we can advance OFAH priorities with whatever party forms government and opposition following the June 2nd election.
For you, there is an opportunity to vote Thursday in a way that considers your fishing, hunting, and general conservation interests. Even after the election, you will continue to have an opportunity to influence a positive fishing and hunting future by supporting the OFAH as we advocate for our many priorities with Ontario’s next government.