Changing the Channel

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In Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF, formerly the MNR), has been under fire for (lack of) accountability into how it manages its Special Purpose Account (SPA). The SPA is the money generated by revues it gets primarily from the sale of hunting and fishing licences, money that is earmarked for management of natural resources. This money was never meant to replace dollars from general revenue, but was supposed to be a supplement to it.

But things aren’t really working out as planned, at least not according to those who aren’t running the show (http://www.oodmag.com/news/mpps-call-accountability-mnrf/).

These type of accounts always run into trouble in governments. Money is always problematic, and everybody has their own idea how it should be spent.

Part of the problem is that when things are rosy (e.g., when populations of harvest-able species are high and licence sales are high), fish and wildlife agencies are awash in cash. But when populations plummet, and licence sales decline, revenue dries up. Unfortunately, it’s when things are bad when the need for money is usually most critical. Which means revenue sources like the SPA work precisely in an inverse relationship, with respect to need. SPA funding did decline in actual dollars in 2014 from 2013. Given the hard winter (2013-14) and the fact moose tags have been reduced, and deer seal sales will also likely decline, there’s a good chance SPA funding will decline again in 2015. That’s a big reason why MNRF is looking for new sources of revenue.

Of course, that’s not the only problem.

It seems to me there is a large problem with accountability and transparency as to how SPA money is spent.

I looked at how funding was reported for the SPA for the years 2011 through to 2014, as shown in the hunting and fishing summary booklets, and saw that every year funding categories changed. Also note that these dollars are not adjusted for inflation.

Program 2011

$65.7 million

2012

$68.2 million

2013

$72.3 million

2014

$70 million

F&W Services 19% 11% 35%
Field Operations 25% 21%
Enforcement 14% 19% 19% 22%
Applied Research & Development 12% 7% 6%
Science & Information 10% 10% 9%
F&W Policy 8% 15% 12%
SAR/Endangered spp 9%
Other 3%
Great Lakes 17%
Regional Operations 19%
Outdoors Card & Licensing 11%
Planning, Policy & Regulatory 30%
Safety Education & Promotion 5%
Species & Ecosystem Science 19%
Population Health, Rehabilitation & Enhancement 13%

Plus, in 2012, there was only ‘Applied Research’ (no ‘& Development), F&W Policy became simply Policy, and in 2014, Enforcement became Conservation Officers and Enforcement. Which means the columns may not be reporting the same things as they were before.

So in short, money (at least SPA funding) is short and in decline, it’s hard for anyone to see where the money is spent, and darn hard to compare year to year funding. Given the deficit of the Ontario government is billions of dollars, savings need to be found and the biggest and growing expenditures are for Education and Health, both of which are unlikely to see expenditure reductions, it’s hard to paint a rosy picture when looking at F&W management in Ontario. Especially given the movement away from managing harvestable species (which pay the bills) to other things, like SAR (an expenditure that is no longer explicitly listed; but on-going surveys for the likes of caribou, whip-poor-will, bobolinks and a myriad of other species with no licensed harvest, are certainly are being done and cost big bucks).

At best, it will be interesting to see whether MNRF provides some clarity soon as to its future management priorities, and where anglers and hunters fit into that picture.

 

 

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