On Sept. 27, the Ontario government announced its plan to eliminate the Ontario Ranger Program (ORP).
For nearly 70 years, this program has provided thousands of youth with summer employment, and a once in a lifetime experience.
The closure of the ORP would have a negative impact on the province, not only for the youth who would be denied this wonderful opportunity, but by extension, all Ontarians.
The ORP provides youth with the opportunity to spend a summer in Northern Ontario working for the Ministry of Natural Resources.
They work five days a week and have educational experiences, typically related to environmental issues. Projects are varied and include stream rehabilitation, tending to replanted trees and trail maintenance.
In return for their hard work, students are paid minimum wage and have room and board deducted from their paychecks. Due to the typically secluded locations of the ORP camps, students typically leave with the majority of their summer earnings.
For many, the ORP provides youth with their first summer jobs, not to mention the seclusion of the ORP often puts rangers outside their comfort zone which forces them to develop new social skills.
Dani Buckner, a nursing student at Laurentian University and a supervisor for the Killarney Ontario Ranger Camp states that, “The skills rangers learn, such as punctuality, respect, confidence, leadership skills and how to work as a team, will benefit them in their future.
The confidence rangers acquire is hugely valuable. Living without their parents in a safe and welcoming environment empowers them to get out of their comfort zone and become more independent.”
Ben North, a student at Wilfrid Laurier University and ORP supervisor, reiterates Buckner’s claims, stating that the educational aspect of the ORP cannot be underestimated.
The importance of the learning portion of the program, he states, introduced him to “the forest industry, fire management and to historical sites.”
The value of this education is also recognized by the Ministry of Education, who recently allowed participants the opportunity to gain high school co-op credit for their participation in the program.
While the Ontario government has suggested that a Stewardship ranger program would be an acceptable replacement for the ORP, this is simply not the case. The Stewardship program does not offer any of these opportunities.
Not only would it cater to a select few areas, making a large percentage of applicants ineligible, but an integral aspect of the program is lost.
For many this is a coming of age experience. So why is the government proposing to slash this incredibly valuable program? In a shortsighted attempt to save $1.6 million per year.
Despite this, only two years ago the government granted the ORP $6 million to upgrade outdated facilities. The argument that the Ontario Ranger Program is an economic drain is completely unfounded.
The operating costs of this program remain relatively little, as the renovations have already been completed.
To close the program after this investment would be an irresponsible mismanagement of government property.
In a time of environmental concern, the ORP is not only facilitating programs that are beneficial to the ecosystem, but creates environmental awareness to a new generation.
In a time of environmental and economic instability, the ORP provides a rare opportunity for youth to gain insight into managing Ontario’s natural resources.
This can have an impact on career choice, as many Rangers subsequently pursue environmental studies or resource management.
As a former ranger, I can personally attest to the value of the ORP. Sadly, it is now an oddity to see a program in which one’s family connections, socio-economic background or place of residence do not influence opportunity. The ORP is one of the last completely fair opportunities left in the province; to cut it would not only be a loss for the youth, but for all Ontarians. Due to the value of this program, I encourage you to contact MPPs to voice your concern, or visit www.friendsoftheorp.com for information.