‘Unwise’ policy

Everyone knows the provincial government is cash-strapped—and certainly is leaving no stone unturned in its mission to slay the deficit by its target date.
“Downloading” became a dirty word in the 1990s as the powers that be at Queen’s Park sought to save money by shifting programs and services onto the backs of municipalities, which, in turn, largely was borne by residents through their property taxes.
The McGuinty Liberals haven’t formally followed suit. Instead, they’ve cleverly left municipalities (i.e., property owners) holding the bag by simply walking away from previously-funded services with a wipe of the hands and a curt, “It’s your problem now.”
The abrupt closure of seven Ontario Travel Information Centres across the province, including the ones in Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Kenora, is one case in point. But another glaring example—and a far more dangerous one—is recent changes to the “Bear Wise” program, specifically the province’s decision to basically get out of the business of nuisance bear management.
It’s true that individuals, whether as home owners, cabin owners, or campers in the bush, have a responsibility to minimize potential conflicts with bears. But dealing with nuisance bears (or worse, bruins that have become increasingly aggressive or downright predatory) is another matter entirely. Yet the province’s solution is for people to call a hotline for advice on what to do next, such as phoning the OPP for help or, perhaps, running for your life.
Yet already this new approach has created confusion—with very nearly tragic consequences. Local MPP Sarah Campbell writes this week that Sioux Lookout residents phoned both the hotline and the OPP with bear concerns over the Victoria Day long weekend, with both agencies telling them to call the other one.
In the end, no one was dispatched and a Winnipeg man later was mauled by one of the bears in question.
Will it take someone’s death to make the province see the error of its “unwise” ways?
As one cabin owner put it over the holiday weekend, it’s as if the Ministry of Natural Resources has adopted the old “3 S” policy of former Alberta premier Ralph Klein during the height of the mad cow disease outbreak: shoot, shovel, and shut up.
That may work in some instances, and even help alleviate some of the problems caused by the cancellation of the spring bear hunt. Whatever the policy, though, the province is putting the public at risk to save money—and that’s unacceptable.