QUEENS PARK – Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Bill Mauro came under fire from the opposition during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Tuesday. The fee increases along with the amount of money that goes to administration was questioned by PC MPP Jeff Yurek.
On Tuesday morning Yurek rose again in the legislature to question the Minister on the new service fees that are now being charged on all Hunting & Angling licenses and transactions in the province of Ontario.
“In some instances, this new fee will increase the cost of some services by 23%. The Liberal Government justifies this new fee based on their claims that the Special Purpose Account (SPA) is declining. “I would like to confirm the Government’s reasoning however, this Ministry has not tabled the SPA documents in the legislature for the past 3 years” stated MPP Yurek.
In addition to the new fees, MPP Yurek shared with the Legislature that 14% or $9.9 million of the SPA collected each year is used to administer the burdensome licensing system created by the Liberal Government. Over half of this money goes to the United States. In fact over the course of the contract that the government signed for the licensing system, over $34 million of the SPA will go to the United States. “It is mind boggling that the government would not invest this money into our local economies and resource management instead of shipping it to another country” stated Yurek.
MPP Yurek demanded that the Minister repeal the new fees, release the special purpose account documents immediately and bring the licensing system back to Canada.
“The lack of openness and transparency from the ministry on the SPA fund has been a great concern for many hunters and anglers and it’s time for the ministry to show Ontarians details of how the SPA is spent” stated MPP Yurek.
MPP Yurek promised to continue to push the government to be open and transparent so that Hunters and Anglers can see how their money is being spent and allow them to offer solutions to improve resource management without the introduction of new fees.
Complete Exchange from Queens Park
Mr. Jeff Yurek: My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Minister, yesterday your government levied a new tax grab in the form of service fees to hunters and anglers of this province, an increase of 23% in certain instances. Minister, this isn’t a basic one-fee-for-all-services but a fee for each and every service. It means $2 is added to each of a multitude of licences a hunter-angler must purchase, such as an outdoors card, various fishing and game licences, and tags for the harvest. This comes in addition to the yearly price increases to licences. This isn’t a simple $2 increase, as you like to portray.
Minister, you justify these new fees based on your claim that the special purpose account is declining. However, nobody knows the details of the special purpose account because you’re ignoring legislation and refusing to table the documents.
Minister, instead of introducing new fees, why will you not release the details of the special purpose account to show hunters and anglers how their money is being spent?
Hon. Bill Mauro: I thank the member for the question. I would say that when the Conservatives brought in the special purpose account, the intention of the account was to be funded to the tune of about $100 million annually. About 66%, or $66 million, of that would come from the licences and fees that were paid by hunters and anglers in the community across the province of Ontario. It’s our intention to continue to try and meet that percentage base from the hunters and fishers from the fees that they pay. If we don’t do that, the very programming that the account was intended to provide for can’t be met.
I know that the member opposite has a very keen interest in that. I know he’s had briefings where he’s asked about expenditures from this account within his own riding.
It’s the intent of this account to be able to continue to meet that mandate, providing hunting and fishing, good programming, and fish and wildlife management in the province of Ontario. That’s the intention, Speaker. I would say as well—well, I’ll provide the further information on this in the supplementary.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Mr. Jeff Yurek: Minister, I’ve asked the questions; I just want an answer.
Minister, if only the hunters and anglers knew how their money is being spent. I’ve recently just found out that over 14%—or $9.9 million—of the special purpose account money that is to be used in the management of resources like deer and fish goes to administering the burdensome licensing system that your government has created. Over half of that money goes to the United States, none of which is invested in our economy or resource management. In fact, over the course of the contract you signed, over $34.12 million of the special-purpose account will go to the United States. Instead of finding efficiencies in the administration of the system, you create new fees.
Minister, hunters and anglers, like most Ontarians, do not trust this government with their money. Why will you not show some good faith, repeal the new fees, release the special purpose account documents and bring the licensing system home to Canada where it belongs?
Hon. Bill Mauro: Before the fees that the member refers to came into effect on December 1 this year, there was a significant period of consultation that was undertaken, going back at least one to one and a half years ago. The decision was made then that the fees would come into effect on December 1.
It’s not as if these fees just came forward and were forced down the throats of anybody. There was significant consultation undertaken, and I know that OFAH came forward with the view that, rather than having a little bit every year, perhaps this was the approach they would prefer on a go-forward basis.
The member raises a fair point: I said in a response to a question he asked last week that those reports he has been asking about will be brought forward in very short order. I can’t speak to why they haven’t been brought forward in the past over three years; it’s our intention to have them tabled within the Legislature in the very near future.