Reckless cuts limit opportunities

Last Wednesday (May 15), I rose during Question Period to ask the government why the Ministry of the Environment was unnecessarily delaying the Rainy River Gold Project.
For months the company had been trying to receive MoE approval for the terms of references for its environmental assessment, without any luck.
While I’m pleased to report that within hours of the Question Period exchange, the government finally gave the approval, allowing the project to move to the next stage, the process shows just how negatively cuts to government services can impact economic development opportunities.
Ministries like the MoE and natural resources play a very important role in our resource economy. Both departments are charged with ensuring that resource-based economic activities, such as mining and forestry, are done in a responsible manner that limits the impact to our natural environment.
As our scientific knowledge has increased, so has the roles of these two very important ministries. Yet despite this importance and growing responsibilities, the MNR has experienced a 22 percent decrease in its budget (after adjusting for inflation) since the mid-1990s.
The MoE, meanwhile, has experienced a 45 percent cut during the same period, which also has included a 20 percent decrease in staffing.
The reductions have grown so significant that the province’s own Environmental Commissioner has stated that the MoE no longer can keep up to date with the oversight and approvals that are required to meet provincial legislation.
While we all understand the need to tighten our belts and manage taxpayer dollars better, cuts to departments that make it impossible to meet deadlines aren’t the answer.
In scenarios like this nobody wins. Those seeking better environmental protections lose because there is a higher chance those who remain in these jobs will rush and not give each file the attention it deserves.
At the same time, those waiting for the jobs and economic opportunities that are desperately-needed wait unnecessarily for the government to get its act together.
The simple fact is, if the government is going to require that these processes and reviews take place, they need to ensure that staffing in the departments is adequate to complete these processes in a timely and fair manner.
In the case of being two months’ overdue in making a decision on Rainy River Resources, this was not done—and I believe it is a cause for concern for all of us who want to see responsible resource development, such as mining and forestry projects, go ahead and bring jobs to our region.
Ultimately that is the problem when governments make across-the-board cuts.
While cuts of 15 or 20 percent may be a great way for someone to portray himself as a great financial manager, making these decisions without considering the actual impact of these cuts is wholly irresponsible and can have very serious, unintended consequences.