More respect for Ontario’s Conservation Officers

By Bobbi Ann Brady

When we consider people who uphold the law, we think of those who protect our greatest resource – people and their property. But there are resources that are protected daily by other people who carry a gun and enforce the law. They are Conservation Officers (COs).

In short, COs protect our natural resources with their key role as education and outreach to anglers, hunters, and the general public. They audit and ensure compliance of hunting and fishing license issuers and commercial operators. COs check license and harvest compliance. When they see laws broken, in some cases, they investigate, gather evidence, and provide that evidence in court if charges are laid.

In Haldimand-Norfolk, sportspeople know COs enforce hunting and fishing laws throughout the year, and in November and December officers regularly check in on deer hunters.

In 2021, Ontario had about 184 COs across 50 Ontario locations. In 2022, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) hired 25 new COs; however, more are needed to help with the several thousand tips that come in through Crime Stoppers each year. This is difficult to keep pace with as each officer is in contact with about 1,000 individuals annually while on duty.

What I am getting at here is COs are an important part of Ontario law enforcement and they deserve to be compensated fairly, and they deserve respect.

In May during Question Period, Algoma-Manitoulin Independent MPP Michael Mantha stated Ontario’s Conservation Officers are underpaid and called on the government to fix the situation. I support his request.

If we want to draw more of the best and brightest—like we already have done— compensation must be fair and in line with comparable fields. We do not want them tempted away by more lucrative offers like many have been within the Ministries of Transportation and Environment.

COs are underpaid by up to $22,000 per annum, when you compare them to comparable roles in other Ontario ministries. The problem sits with their classification, which “places them at a lower pay band than jobs with similar requirements.”

MNRF Minister Graydon Smith, told the legislature that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is working on a classification review for the role. But OPSEU president JP Hornick said in May the province has not negotiated with them on that classification review.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) has also chimed in emphasizing the importance of having enough frontline COs to enforce laws for all Ontarians, but especially for the more than one million anglers and 400,000 hunters in our province who rely on competent enforcement to help protect the province’s natural resources and landscapes.

OFAH Director of Policy Mark Ryckman said, “Over time, we’ve seen just a gradual decline in the number of boots-on-the-ground officers that an angler or a hunter would expect to encounter in the field.”  Recently, I sat down with retired CO Jim Greenwood who echoed this sentiment. Greenwood had a long career in enforcement, and I value and trust his opinion on the matter.

I am a fiscal conservative, and some may wonder why I am siding with more taxpayer spending on pay. Since Ontario has over 250,000 lakes and infinite forest and field, the monitoring and policing of these resources is vital. By not protecting these resources today, we will pay in the long run.

Bobbi Ann Brady is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk