Critics blast new outdoors card renewal system as cumbersome, unworkable

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

MANITOULIN—The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) reports that once the new system to issue Ontario outdoors cards and hunting and fishing licences is in place, it will actually be easier for licence holders and issuers to use. However, at least one license issuer on Manitoulin, and the MPP for Leeds-Grenville says the system is a mess.

“Every day we have a customer come in to get their outdoors card renewed and they are told they have to go to Espanola to get this,” stated Blaine Williamson of D.A. Williamson and Sons Hardware in Mindemoya. “They understandably get ticked off because they end up having to blow part of a work day to get to Espanola to get their licence or outdoors card.”

Last week Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark called on Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resoureces, Michaela Gravelle, to take immediate steps to fix “the mess” his ministry has made of the system to issue hunting and fishing licences and renew outdoors cards.

The move to an electronic system has not only been riddled with delays, but many outfitters who issued licences in the past are reluctantly ceasing to offer the service because they say it’s unworkable, said Mr. Clark. He said in a release, “as a result of the changes this government has implemented without a backup plan, it’s extremely difficult today to get a hunting or fishing licence. It’s an unmitigated disaster and I’m asking the minister to come up with an alternative plan.”

In the past, paper licences were available at many locations. The problem, explained Mr. Williamson, is in the delays in getting the electronic equipment from the supplier who is from Tennessee to outlets across Ontario. Worse, once the system is installed, the system is cumbersome and prone to technological problems.

John Cooper of the MNR told the Recorder, “what we are trying to do is bring the hunting and fishing licence system into the 21st century, and not be paper based. We put a tender-proposal out to have these services available electronically and because of trade regulations we have to advertise to the US as well. The company that was chosen operates the hunting and fishing licences in 26 states.”

“The first couple of months have been rough, but once it is up and running the system will be easy to use,” said Mr. Cooper.

Mr. Williamson pointed out the system was to be in place by the end of 2011 and issuers, for instance, were to have the necessary electronic equipment and training in time to start issuing the cards and licences at the start of the year. “They were supposed to have everything in place by the end of the year (2011), but they didn’t.” He said if someone has a valid outdoors card he can still place a new fishing or hunting sticker on it. If you have a card that is not valid, the closest place you can go to get one (if you live on Manitoulin Island) is at the Service Ontario Centre in Espanola. None of the issuers can do this without the computer in place.” He pointed out no one has supplied him the electronics or the training to run the computer, as of yet.

“The electronic equipment and the training comes from the U.S. and can be done on the phone,” said Mr. Cooper. “To activate an Outdoors Card from a private licence issuer it depends on a telephone line or internet. For Northern Ontario we have run into some difficulties in good quality phone or internet services.”

Mr. Cooper pointed out people can also go online (MNR website) and buy fishing and hunting licences, and there is a 1-800 line people can call to renew an expired Ontario Outdoors Card. As well, many Service Ontario outlets can be visited to get both (the closest available to Manitoulin residents being in Espanola at Service Ontario or the Espanola Papertown Petro Canada) or through private issuers.

“There has been some problems so far, but we are working towards solving this and right now 100-150 new issuers a week are being installed and on line,” said Mr. Cooper. He said the MNR is directing all parties to the MNR website for more information on the outdoors cards or licences.

Mr. Cooper said for year-end licence issuers the electronics and computer training should be complete by the end of January or very early in February.

“The situation is ridiculous,” said Mr. Clark. “The ministry has made it so inconvenient for people to get a lience to hunt and fish that they’re almost forcing them to break the law. If someone has a day to go fishing, they don’t want to spend half of their time lined up at Service Ontario trying to get a licence.”

Mr. Clark noted Ontario PC Natural Resources Critic MPP Laurie Scott has written to Mr. Gravelle to outline the concerns with the system and to ask for a review to explore how it can be streamlined for licence issuers and customers. Ms. Scott has also requested the minister allow outlets to continue to issue traditional licences manually.

Mr. Clark said the ministry should have anticipated the potential problems in moving to a fully electronic system of issuing fishing and hunting licences. He also fears the move to an electronic system will be a blow to businesses in towns and is another step by the government to make it more difficult for people to hunt and fish in Ontario.

For inquiries about purchasing or renewing your outdoors card and fishing and hunting licences, you can call the MNR Outdoors Card Centre toll-free at 1-800-387-7011 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a. to 5 pm.