The following letter was published in the Sudbury Star recently.
Re: “Tories promise to open trails for northerners”. It is refreshing to read that in Nickel Belt Riding, both the NDP’s France Gelinas and the Tories’ Paula Peroni recognize the stark injustice done to northerners who have lost public access to thousands of lakes and vast areas of pristine forest, all decreed by Queen’s Park and MNR bureaucrats. As expected, the Liberal’s Tony Rima says that the issue just hasn’t come up on all the doors that he has knocked on. Perhaps Mr. Ryma has been knocking on doors in southern Ontario!
To illustrate the gravity of the problem, imagine that you were an angler and hunter in Europe a few hundred years ago. Fish and game were plentiful and vast untouched areas of forests and lakes teemed with nature’s wonderful bounty. The only problem was the King and his entourage of lords and noblemen had reserved most of this pristine land for their private hunting and fishing grounds. Any poor peasant who dared enter onto this hallowed ground to obtain a fish or fowl to feed his hungry family was severely punished. That served as an example to other peasants who may have the gall to interfere with the private outdoor pleasure of the King and his buddies.
Fast forward to 2011 Ontario; Medieval Kings and noblemen would feel at home in jolly ‘ole Ontario. Thousands of square kilometers of pristine Crown land, and over 2,000 of our best lakes are still off-limits to the masses. The MNR, in concert with NOTO (Northern Outdoor Tourism Ontario) has allowed remote lodge owners the exclusive use* of vast areas of our Crown land and lakes. The average anglers and hunters are warned by posted signs that “trespassing” on such lands will result in charges and heavy fines if they use any type of vehicle to access these lands and lakes. This artificial remoteness, created by keeping the “locals” out, enables remote lodges to charge higher rates and rake in huge profits because of their “remoteness”. Moreover, MNR Conservation Officers, who have more important things to do, are forced to police these private hunting grounds and charge any wayward hikers, hunters or blueberry pickers.
*Minister Jeffrey keeps telling the public through the media that public acces is NOT restricted – “All that ordinary people have to do is WALK in, we just don’t want any vehicles on the roads that were built with taxpayers’ money”. Surely, her staff must have informed the Minister that walking in to a lake, a minimum of three kilometers and up to 50 kms, carrying a canoe, fishing and camping equipment, food and essantials is just not feasible and, despite her double-talk, is essentially prohibiting public access. Mouthing those words of “well, they can WALK in” is just adding extra salt to the wound of private hunting and fishing grounds for the wealthy.
Publicly owned Crown lands, and the major lakes on them, are used as private game and fish farms for the wealthier American, European and Canadian guests to enjoy without being bothered by the presence of the poor average Ontario outdoors person. Of course, remote tourism operators have a right to run a business and make a profit, but not at the expense of the rights and freedoms of Ontario taxpayers and at a very high disadvantage to road-based tourist operators who do not enjoy the generous government benefits that their remote tourism cohorts enjoy.
It’s high time to end the two-class system of public access to Ontario’s Crown lands and lakes. While (according to Wikipedia) Ontario has over 250,000 bodies of water, only about 4,000 are lakes of over three square kilometers in area (3 Sq. Kms). Approximately 2,000 of these major lakes, most of them stocked with fish from MNR hatcheries at the taxpayers’ expense, along with thousands of square kilometers of pristine public land, are reserved for paying guests of the remote tourism industry.
More and more tertiary and other roads are being bermed, “buffer zones” set up around tourism lakes, culverts or bridges removed, and otherwise closed up after forestry operations are completed. As well, the chronic shortages of enforcement staff and budgetary restrictions have resulted in large areas being closed to the public. Surely, there is a better way to support remote tourism and respect public right of access. Much of the road network closed to the public is funded by the $75 Million public roads fund, taxpayers’ money that Premier McGuinty promised would also be for the enjoyment of the public at large. (Another failed promise). If land areas or lakes really need to be closed for bona-fide conservation or ecological reasons, then they should be closed to all anglers and hunters – not closed to ordinary citizens and kept open only for the paying hunting and fishing tourists.
It appears that Ontario residents are ready for a change in government, and I sincerely believe that the Liberal government’s handling of the MNR portfolio in the last few years is one very important reason that residents feel that way.
Simon R. Guillet