Letter to the Editor by Paul Welsman

RCA member Paul Welsman copied us on this email that he submitted to the Ridgetown Independent.  It is one of the best-reasoned, most rational arguments for changing Ontario Parks’ exclusionary agenda that we’ve ever read. Thanks Paul!

Dear Editor,

Leaseholders in Rondeau Provincial Park are waiting to see what the future has in store for them. The last offer for a lease extension from the Ministry Of Natural Resources was designed to phase-out the cottages within a generation. However, in the face of enormous opposition from the cottagers and the broader community in Chatham Kent, the MNR withdrew its ʻofferʼ and advised that after the election there would be a new proposal.

The degree of hostility shown by the MNR to the cottages is the real mystery in this story and their approach to the issue flies in the face of well established policies adopted by jurisdictions elsewhere. For many years, parks across Canada have successfully integrated existing cottage communities within their boundaries while protecting all environmental and public use concerns. Saskatchewan, for example, manages over 2100 cottage leaseholders within its parks. The general public enjoys an unrestricted opportunity to purchase these cottages as they come up for sale. Saskatchewan grants 21 year fully renewable leases, a policy which ensures that cottage owners can maintain their properties with full confidence. The province also provides clear and consistent administration of these leases to ensure that cottagersʼ activities conform to all environmental regulations. A cottagersʼ handbook and website provides clear guidance on all regulatory aspects of living within a park. Permanent advisory committees for each park exist in which cottage associations as well as other public interests are represented. These efforts ensure that park policies can be discussed and enforced with minimal public misunderstanding. Substantial cottage lease revenues are devoted to the maintenance and expansion of Saskatchewan parks, not a bad idea in difficult fiscal times. Recently I had the opportunity to camp in Cypress Hills, in Saskatchewan and the facilities were first rate. The fact that cottages were present in parts of this park did not detract in the least from my enjoyment of the place and Cypress Hills is an environmental jewel in that province.

Compare this approach with the treatment accorded to cottage leaseholders in Ontario parks and to Rondeau in particular. The MNR is prepared to incorporate cottages when establishing new parks, but its approach is blatantly hostile to existing communities such as Rondeau where bulldozers have been the governmentʼs preferred tool. Why the double standard? MNRʼs last ʻphase outʼ offer totally ignored the large economic contribution from the cottages as well as the cultural and social importance of this 100 year old community. It is also clear that any environmental and public use concerns are totally baseless. And that is why MNRʼs proposal failed miserably.

While it has been my experience that many local MNR employees are dedicated and professional, one can only say that the general administration of the leases has been erratic, arbitrary and rife with dismal communication. But, then again, it is hard to have a constructive relationship with a community one is simultaneously attempting to destroy. It doesnʼt need to be this way. If only the MNR could absorb some new information and discover how other provinces have successfully managed this issue to the benefit of all concerned, then we would have progress indeed.

– Paul Welsman,

A Cottage Leaseholder