Conservation officers are front-line heroes who protect Ontario’s natural resources – and they are demanding fair compensation for the work they do.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent a letter to Hon. John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, calling on him to direct ministry managers to say yes to reclassification and compensation that is in line with comparable positions both inside and outside the Ontario Public Service.
March 18, 2021
Hon. John Yakabuski
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
Whitney Block, Suite 6630, 6th Floor
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1W3
Our approximately 170 front line conservation officers are proud of the work they do. OPSEU/SEFPO conservation officers are front line protectors of Ontario’s natural resources and have been throughout the pandemic. They enforce all laws related to natural resources, and they have also enforced the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and Reopening Ontario Act while they have been in effect.
Unfortunately, most conservation officers get paid significantly less than the majority of enforcement officers, inspectors and investigators in other ministries in the Ontario Public Service, despite having similar job duties and often more complex and high-risk responsibilities. The wage difference can be as high as $16,000 per year within the OPS, and as high as $31,000 in comparison to OPP officers.
Conservation officers at the “Resource Technician 4” classification have submitted special cases during bargaining, and job reclassification requests for years. And yet, the Ministry has consistently refused their requests and the scope of their work has gone unrecognized and inadequately compensated for decades, since their first reclassification requests in the 1980s.
Their work includes conducting enforcement patrols, investigating crime scenes including firearm-caused injuries and human fatalities, executing search warrants, collecting forensic evidence, laying charges, high-risk arrests, search-and-seizures, undercover operations, testifying in court, etc. They are peace officers with Ontario Police College training, and graduate alongside every police officer in the province. Conservation officers are trained in use of force, defensive tactics, pistols and long guns, fleetnet radio operations, and they are the only OPS employees who carry a side-arm due to the danger inherent in their work – every poacher they catch is armed. Conservation officers often do their work alone and in remote locations and far from assistance; they are often the nearest front line law enforcement officer for rural communities in Ontario.
For years there has been a severe shortage of conservation officers – only one officer for every 81,000 people in the province. There are not enough conservation officers in the province to adequately protect our natural resources, and the ones we do have feel undervalued, ignored, and unfairly treated. I’m told by our members that morale has never been lower as a result. Such a shame, considering how much Ontarians value our natural resources and the conservation officers who protect them. During the last provincial election, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) called for more conservation officers to enforce existing laws and support proper wildlife management and protection. The Ford government responded to their request in part by committing to hire more conservation officers – but that hasn’t happened yet.
Inadequate compensation will not help the government keep that promise. Lower comparative wages cause retention problems. Our conservation officers have seen way too many experienced colleagues leaving the field for other higher-paid enforcement jobs in the OPS and other enforcement agencies.
On behalf of OPSEU/SEFPO conservation officers, I request that you intervene and instruct the Ministry to grant our request for reclassification and increased pay for conservation officers.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
c: OPSEU/SEFPO Executive Board
Elaine Bagnall, MNRF MERC Co-chair
Sean Cronsberry, President, Ontario Conservation Officers Association
Angelo Lombardo, Executive Director, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Judith Monteith-Farrell, MPP, NDP Critic for Natural Resources, Forestry and Mines
Michael Gravelle, MPP, Liberal Critic for Natural Resources and Forestry
Mike Schreiner, MPP, Green Party Leader