MPPs representing the Conservative and New Democratic parties have joined a growing call to have the provincial government overturn its decision one year ago to cancel the popular Ontario Ranger Program.
“We can work something out to get this program back,” Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock) told a noon hour gathering of almost 75 supporters of the defunct program at Queen’s Park yesterday. “The Ontario Ranger Program brought together young people, urban and rural. The impact on them has been life lasting.”
Added NDP MPP Jon Vanthof (Timiskaming-Cochrane): The ranger program is not just about the Ministry of Natural Resources or a youth program. It is a program to preserve our culture in Ontario that people from around the world identify us with.”
Organized by the Friends of the Ontario Ranger Program, the Queen’s Park lobbying effort also attracted federal MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) who herself was a 17-year old Ontario Junior Ranger working at Pancake Bay Provincial Park north of Sault Ste Marie in the summer of 1974.
“I grew up in the St. Jamestown housing complex in downtown Toronto and never saw the nighttime stars,” said Chow. “As a ranger in northern Ontario I finally saw the stars. I fell in love with northern Ontario and the program shaped my life completely.”
Former Minister of Natural Resources, Michael Gravelle, (Thunder Bay-Superior North) and current MNR minister David Orazietti, (Sault Ste Marie) also attended yesterday’s event but did not speak.
The Liberal government’s abrupt decision to cut the $1.6 million program from the provincial budget in September 2012 led to formation of a grassroots campaign to restore the environmental and youth program in the 2014 provincial budget. More than 70,000 young people participated in the 68-year program which emphasized environmental stewardship, maintenance of provincial parks, life skills and team-building. Participants were selected by lottery and, for many, introduced young people to regions of Ontario far outside their home communities.
At yesterday’s event members of the Friends campaign announced their plans to mount a province-wide petition campaign to have the ministry restore the ranger program in time for next summer.
Toronto lawyer Maureen Ward, who is active in the campaign to restore the program, told yesterday’s gathering that the rangers program was more than daily work in a wilderness environment. “For the young people involved it was value-added. We learned as much about ourselves as we did about those around us.”