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As Autumn Leaves Fall, Some Parks Have Camping And Washrooms, Others Not


By Randall White


As the leaves continue to turn in parts of Ontario, some taxpayers may have seen an earlier news release from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry as a sign of the times. 

It shows, that is to say, the subtle and necessarily limited and perhaps even disciplined way in which the progressive public sector expresses itself in Canada’s most populous province, as we approach the fourth quarter of 2014. 

The release says, "Ontario, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, is opening five new provincial parks and expanding three others.”

Then it goes on: “These natural environment and nature reserve parks will help protect over 10,000 hectares of Ontario's rare ecosystems ... The parks will also support many rare and endangered species, while giving families and visitors more opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the province's natural beauty.”

Finally, the Ministry communicators get to the real kicker:  “Although the parks won't permit camping or provide visitor facilities such as washrooms, they will offer activities like hiking and bird watching.”

From one standpoint, the logic here is impeccable, in the current fiscal circumstances.

Sticking to “hiking and bird watching” is a lean and efficient public policy that does not waste scarce resources on such extravagantly expensive items as camping or washrooms.

The new Deputy Premier and President of the Treasury Board, Deb Matthews from London North Centre, should be pleased with the cost-saving policies. 

And it may be good for hikers and birdwatchers.

But it does not really help or even logically appeal to we the broader masses, who may require camping or washrooms to properly appreciate the province’s rare ecosystems and natural beauty.

As one kind of case in point, in a recent article for the Timmins Times Len Gillis explained what happened a few years ago, when the freshly cost-conscious McGuinty Liberals announced that 10 provincial parks in Northeastern Ontario would be closed to overnight camping to save money. 

The announcement, Gillis writes, “caused outrage across the North since many Northerners regard camping as a popular summer lifestyle choice.”

In response to the anger, Ivanhoe Provincial Park — a destination of choice for many Timmins campers — has been kept open for the last two years as part of a provincial-municipal pilot project.

In 2013 the project not only covered costs from its own user-fee revenue. It apparently even made a small profit.

Local enthusiasts are optimistic that similar success in 2014 will keep Ivanhoe Park open for 2015.

Under questioning by NDP Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson, Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro told the Legislature on Tuesday to expect an announcement soon.

Meanwhile, much further south, it's a different story.

Mr. Mauro signed a posting in late summer on NorthumberlandView.ca suggesting people “Fall Asleep in Ontario Parks This Autumn.” 

The posting says “Ontario Parks offers a variety of roofed accommodations, including cabins, yurts and cottages. Whether you're looking for the simplicity of a soft-sided shelter, the convenience of trailer camping ... Ontario Parks offers it all.”

The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry notes a few quick facts as well. There are, for instance, over 330 provincial parks in Ontario, covering an area “larger than Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island combined.”

There were more than 8.5-million visits to Ontario provincial parks in 2013, bringing in some $69 million in direct revenue.

And there's a website dedicated to where to view the fall colours, at http://www.ontarioparks.com/fallcolour.

So in fact, we the broader masses have not been forgotten here at all. Not only can we take advantage of camping and washroom facilities but “a variety of roofed accommodations” in the cooler fall weather, with all its ultimately remarkable leaves.

It could be a lot worse. 


About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : October 22, 2014

View all of Randall White's columns
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