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On November 23rd, 2005 Nipissing MPP, Monique Smith, brought the issues surrounding Ontario's Black Bears to Parliament. Ms. Smith's presentation and the ensuing debate was very articulate and knowledgeable. It was also heartening to see the serious treatment and significant knowledge of the polititians regarding Ontario's Black Bears. This has improved dramatically over the past number of years. This debate can be found in the at: http://hansardindex.ontla.on.ca/hansardeissue/38-2/l019.htm.

Comment on the MPP Monique Smith's Motion, and the parliamentary discussion on
NOTO's Bulletin Board



WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT

Ms. Monique M. Smith (Nipissing): I move that, in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should do whatever is necessary to protect the citizens of Ontario from nuisance bears.

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Ms. Smith has moved private members' notice of motion number 5. Pursuant to standing order 96, Ms. Smith, you have up to 10 minutes. You have the floor.

Ms. Smith: I rise today to speak to the issue of nuisance bears, which is very important in my area, and in my riding in particular. Although it is perhaps somewhat selfish of me to take up the time of the House on this issue, I think it is an issue for all of Ontario, and specifically for northern Ontario.

This issue, which has always been a part of our lives up in northern Ontario, came to my attention most recently this fall. It has really become an important issue and a serious safety concern for the children of our community and for the broader general public. I decided to bring forward this resolution in September, when I had spoken to a number of people who had been directly affected by the presence of nuisance bears in our communities.

Nuisance bears are affecting our schools. In Mattawa, the school is on guard for bears. Let me just cite for you an article from the North Bay Nugget: "Hungry black bears are roaming the streets of Mattawa and Trout Creek, and the North Bay District Ministry of Natural Resources is getting swamped with calls from people who say the bruins are getting too close for comfort." This is dated September 9, 2005. "At least one school has increased supervision during recess after tracks were found on its property, and residents are walking in groups at night with flashlights and bells to ward off encounters." This is in downtown Mattawa. The council in Mattawa "discussed the situation at a special meeting ... after a bear tore apart a garbage box" at some time over the weekend of September 9 "at the Mattawa Child Care Centre on the St. Victor school property." The bears are right in the school properties, right in our communities.

In North Bay proper, we've had bear sightings near the West Ferris Secondary School. On September 14, we had to have the North Bay Police Service and our humane society get involved and actually trap and remove a bear cub. They were involved because the Ministry of Natural Resources' bear wise technicians were unavailable at the time due to the high number of calls and traps being sets in Mattawa and other communities. We do have resources in place to deal with the nuisance bears. However, they're being tapped out.

Again, this one really brought it close to home for me in October, when we had a bear sighting right next to our high school at 11:30 in the morning. The high school yard is attached to a primary school. The children in the primary school were kept in the school for their lunch-hour recess because the teachers were too concerned about letting them out while there was a bear in the vicinity. The police were called and they actually shot this bear cub out of a tree in front of the students. I bring this particular incident to your attention because it was right in downtown North Bay. It was about eight blocks from where I live. It's right next to the school that my brother attended. It's very scary. It also disturbed the children and the neighbourhood. That was following a sighting the night before of a bear in that neighbourhood as well.

When I was in Mattawa recently for a rally, I met with some of the seniors there who were afraid to take out their garbage. They're afraid to go out of their homes. One particular senior told me that she hadn't left her house for two days after she'd seen a bear at the end of her driveway. This isn't, of course, just an issue for my riding. As you know, we've had some serious bear incidents across the province, including the tragic mauling death of Dr. Jacqueline Perry in September in the Missinaibi Lake provincial park and the injuring of her husband.

The numbers speak for themselves: There have been an inordinate number of sightings this year in particular of nuisance bears across the province. Province-wide last year, 2004, we had 948 occurrence of bear sightings in August, and in September we had 736. This year, 2005, we had 1,758 reported occurrences in August, and in September we had 2,385. Let me just compare that to the numbers of bears that have been reported killed: In 2004, 25 in June and 30 in July. In 2005, 81 in August and 92 in September. We're seeing an exponential growth in the number of sightings of nuisance bears and then having to deal with them.

Again, the number of bears reported killed is a low number, because it's those reported. We have a number of residents who are taking issues into their own hands, dealing with the nuisance bear problem on their property. The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters questioned some of the numbers that the Ministry of Natural Resources is putting out, because they feel that they are being under-reported.

I want to take the Legislature through a brief history of where we've been and where we're going with the bear hunt. Back in the 1980s, there was an open bear hunt; there was no real restriction on our bear hunt. In 1987, we introduced some licensing restrictions around the bear hunt. It wasn't until 1999 that we actually saw the elimination of the spring bear hunt, many would argue for political reasons, and many have questioned the science behind that decision.

I will concede that there are some questions around the science and the correlation between the increase in nuisance bear sightings and the elimination of the spring bear hunt. However, the people of my community are firmly of the belief that the elimination of the spring bear hunt has increased the number of nuisance bear sightings and the bear population in the north.

As you know, in December 2003, our government introduced the bear wise strategy. This is based on some very good science: Most of the reports from different jurisdictions talk about the fact that we have to educate the population on how to deal with our nuisance bears. The bear wise program, introduced in March 2004, outlined a strategy for reporting bear sightings, responding to those bear sightings and preventing human-bear conflicts. As the Minister of Natural Resources reported yesterday, the reporting line which we set up, which is a 24-hour, toll-free hotline, has had 14,500 calls.

We have developed protocols with 40 municipalities in order to deal with nuisance bear calls, and our municipalities are supported by the MNR. But as I indicated, in our community and the North Bay sighting in West Ferris, we didn't have the resources available because there are so many calls that our resources are tapped out.

I might also draw your attention to the fact that in 1996-97, the previous Conservative government cut the resources of the Ministry of Natural Resources down to the bone. We have, over time, been building them up since our government came into power. We have been providing more resources to that ministry in order to deal with these problems, but there is a legacy of problems within the ministry not having the proper resources that they need.

The bear wise program is going some way to deal with the problem, but as I've noted, our communities are noting an increase, this year especially. I wanted to bring it to the attention of my fellow legislators, as well as to the attention of the general public. In the North Bay Nugget on October 1, we had a report of a gentleman living in Powassan who shot four bears outside his home after they ripped off the screen door of his home. In his home at that time were his wife and six-month-old child. That causes huge concerns in a community where we have bears being that brazen and bold. That led the township of Chisholm, at its council meeting in October, to pass the following resolution:

"Whereas the cancellation of the spring bear hunt several years ago has resulted in an overabundant black bear population; and

"Whereas the black bear population is becoming increasingly bold and there are increased incidents of nuisances bear and bear attacks in urban and rural areas; and

"Whereas the spring bear hunt was a viable management tool and a way of controlling the black bear population;

"Now, therefore, be it resolved that the council of the corporation of the township of Chisholm petitions the Honourable David Ramsay, Minister of Natural Resources, to immediately move to reinstate the bear hunt, and further, that this resolution be circulated to local members of Parliament and all municipalities in the province of Ontario for support."

The science is there. Many reports have indicated that prevention and education is an important component in dealing with the spring bear hunt. But there are also other ways of dealing with nuisance bears, and I would argue that one of those ways is to reintroduce the spring bear hunt and allow for some management through that means.

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Most recently, in the state of Pennsylvania, where they've been dealing with the issue, they introduced a management plan for black bears in October 2005 based on the most recent science and studies. They do indicate that nuisance bear conflicts have economic and public safety consequences. They go through a number of initiatives which they are introducing, including a major educational effort. But as part of their overall strategy, they are looking at, by October 2008, identifying areas within their bear management units where locally high bear abundance is a factor in human-bear conflict and they're evaluating if hunting may be used to reduce that abundance. I would suggest that might be an appropriate approach for our government to deal with the nuisance bear problem which is putting our population at risk, particularly in the north. I think the issue of our children's and our seniors' safety is something this Legislature has to take seriously.

I thank you for your time, and I look forward to responding to my colleagues.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mr. Norm Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka): It's my pleasure to join in the debate on this resolution from the member from Nipissing, "That in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should do whatever is necessary to protect the citizens of Ontario from nuisance bears." I'm very pleased that the member has brought forward this resolution. It's important to get the government's attention on this issue, although I would point out that the member is part of the government and the government doesn't need a resolution from private members' business to act on the question of nuisance bears -- although I think this resolution is certainly a lot more important than the past one, which was the Kormos resolution to do with a dress code in the Legislature. This is certainly a much more important issue.

The government needs to act on the recommendations of a report that was tabled on August 28, 2003, and that's the Nuisance Bear Review Committee report. In that report, there was a recommendation for a partial reinstatement of the spring bear hunt. Now, they didn't find in that report a connection between the cancellation of the spring bear hunt and an increase in the number of bears, but they did recommend a reinstatement of a very controlled spring bear hunt for socio-economic reasons.

There was also a recommendation in that report for further research, and I think that is very much needed. Information I have from an independent organization on the bear synopsis for 2005 says that Ontario's black bear population may now be 100% higher than what the MNR is telling the public -- that means 200,000 or more and growing. The MNR's estimate of 100,000 is based on information more than 20 years old.

This has been a bad year for bear attacks and deaths. We've had at least four people attacked -- one killed -- in Ear Falls, Chapleau, Sioux Lookout and Upsala. Problem and nuisance bears are at unprecedented levels across the province. For example, the town of Marathon recently declared their garbage dump a danger zone. MNR's province-wide toll-free number received 15,000 calls in 2004. The OPP and residents are killing problem and nuisance bears at unprecedented levels.

I received a lot of information, and I don't have enough time to go through everything, because other members want to speak to this. But I did receive some excellent information from an outfitter in the north, Roxann Lynn at Moose Horn Lodge -- a whole package of information, including some highlighted excerpts from the Liberal campaign document of 2003.

But one of the more compelling letters in that information package is a letter from the Minister of Conservation for the province of Manitoba. I'll highlight a couple of parts of that letter: "Experience in this province" -- Manitoba -- "has shown that if bear populations increase, then there would be an increase in the number of bear-human conflicts. This increase would lead to more bears being killed in response to increased property damage and to circumstances where personal safety is at risk. Large numbers of cubs would subsequently be orphaned as, inherently, less thought is given in these circumstances to the protection of females and cubs....

"The spring bear hunt provides socio-economic benefits to Manitoba. The purchase of goods and services by both resident and non-resident hunters, coupled with initiatives such as the mandatory use of outfitters and resident licensed guides by non-resident hunters, is important in many areas of the province, particularly where high unemployment exists.

"Manitoba's bear populations are stable, and Manitoba Conservation views a well-managed spring bear hunt as a legitimate approach to managing the bear population."

"With respect to your inquiry on orphaned cubs, it is my understanding that approximately six orphaned cubs are handled each year by Manitoba Conservation."

Interestingly enough, that letter was signed by Oscar Lathlin, the Minister of Conservation for the province of Manitoba. In Ontario, a partial assessment of the number of orphaned bears with no spring bear hunt, which was part of the justification for the cancellation of the spring bear hunt -- in 2001 in Ontario, there were 159 orphaned bears as compared to six in Manitoba.

Also, this person sent a letter from the minister in Quebec as well, outlining why they support having a spring bear hunt as well.

I think the spring bear hunt obviously has some socio-economic benefits, but also it is a tool for the control of the population of bears. We've certainly seen many incidents this year, in particular the very tragic incident near Chapleau, when Jacqueline Perry, a doctor from Brantford, was killed by a bear.

I support this resolution, and I think the government should act on the report that it has in its hands and received in August 2003. I look forward to some comments from other members of our party who want to add something to this debate.

Mr. Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): Well, I think there has been a conversion in this Legislature. I just heard it happen a couple of times this morning. Us northerners -- Mike, Monique, others. When was it that the bear hunt was cancelled in northern Ontario? Was it under the Liberal government? Was it under the NDP government? No. It was under the Conservative government. I just heard the whip for the Conservative Party now take a position that we should reinstate the black bear hunt, and I think that's rather interesting, considering it was his very party that cancelled it in the first place. So I look forward to a response to this question from the Tory caucus when they get up and debate. Is I to take -- "Is I," as I always say in good English, right? Am I to then take from the speech from the Conservative whip that the Conservative Party has reversed themselves and they are now taking the position that we should reinstate the black bear hunt in the province of Ontario? I need to know that from the Conservative caucus.

I also heard my good and esteemed colleague from North Bay -- I think I heard her right, and I was a bit surprised. As some people say, I almost swallowed my bubble gum because I thought what I heard you say was that you're in favour of the reinstatement of the spring hunt. I would like a clarification on that at the end, because if that's the case, then I would ask the member, why not bring the motion in the House this morning rather than having a motion now that basically says, "The government should do everything possible to deal with black bears"? Well, that's kind of a no-brainer. We're all going to vote for that, and we all believe that the government should do all it can about nuisance bears and protect the public. I don't think there's a member in this House who's going to vote against that. But if the position of the Liberal member is that there should be a reinstatement of the spring bear hunt as a means to control the black bear population in northern Ontario, if that's what Madame Smith is saying, I would suggest that you should say that categorically, yes or no, because maybe I misunderstood you. I heard you say yes. If the answer is yes, then you should have amended your motion to say, "I call on the Legislature to reinstate the black bear hunt," and we could have had a very clear vote. People would have voted the way they were, and we would have known the position of both the Liberal and the Tory caucuses.

I've got to say that our caucus -- I'm personally not on side with this decision -- has always taken the position that the cancellation is something that should be maintained. That's what my leader says and that's what the majority of caucus says, other than me. I've taken an opposite view. Sometimes you lose these battles within caucus and you take your lumps and you go along. However, that is the position of the NDP caucus, and I'll be very clear about that. But if I'm hearing that there is now a change on the part of the Conservatives and Liberals, that they are now reversing themselves and saying we should reinstate the black bear hunt -- I just thought that was rather interesting. The motion should have been straight up or straight down: "Do you vote for the reinstatement of the black bear hunt?"

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I want to say that we have, as all legislators have over the years, made fun of the black bear thing. But it's really a serious issue in northern Ontario. For anybody who lives in northern or, I would argue, central Ontario -- you probably have some of the same problems in and around Parry Sound, Muskoka and those areas -- I'm telling you, it is a real serious issue. For example, in my own backyard last year, at about 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning -- I live in downtown Timmins. It's not as if I live out in the bush. I have a cottage out in Kamiskotia, but I live in downtown Timmins, on Middleton Avenue. I, like most residents, have been woken up a whole bunch of times over the last two or three years by bears in our backyards. And I live in a downtown community. I don't leave my garbage outside, so there's nothing for the bear. The barbecue is protected, so there's nothing for the bear to get in the barbecue. But the bears, rummaging for food, travel from one backyard to the other knocking over barbecues, trying to get into homes, going into garbage cans. In fact, I've been woken up in the middle of the night more than once by Timmins police chasing black bears out of my backyard on Middleton Avenue.

Just now, before I came into the Legislature, I was talking to Glen and Marjory Ironside on a different issue. I asked them what they thought about this. Their position was that the cancellation was the wrong thing to do. Both Glen and Marjory, like most northerners, I think, say the reinstatement of the black bear hunt is something that should be done, because they're seeing, as citizens in the city of Timmins, an incursion of bears into our community.

I want to relate to you a couple of stories that happened to me just last summer. I think they're kind of indicative of what we're starting to see. First of all, we need to understand what the issue is. As there are more bears out there and humans are basically encroaching on their territory -- that's what's happening. As our communities are getting larger, our cottage areas, all that stuff, as we're developing more and more land, there are less and less places for bears to sustain themselves as they normally do out in the forest. As a result of an increased population of bears because of the cancellation of the spring bear hunt, I would argue, you have more bears with fewer places to go, so they're coming to where we live. Basically, we're the ones who are backing up into their backyard.

The point is this: The bears are not as afraid as they used to be. I'll give you a couple of examples of what happened to me this summer. I've got a cottage out in Kamiskotia. We have a dump run by the municipality, so you bring your garbage out to the dump. Obviously, there are going to be bears at a dump. We all know that. That happened even before the cancellation of the black bear hunt. But here's the difference. It used to be that you'd see one or two, sometimes three bears, from time to time, at the dump. But if you saw them, and you drove up in your truck or your car with the trailer on the back with the garbage, the bears used to skedaddle. They didn't want to be around humans, because they were nervous about having humans around them. Nowadays, those bears don't give a darn. They're in big numbers. I'll show up at the dump and there will be five, six, seven bears rummaging through the garbage bags at the dump. It's to the point that you know when you go to the dump now, you're going to see bears.

Here are a couple of things that happened to me this summer. I went over one time with my Uncle Condo, who has a cottage just up the road from us. I have this habit -- because a lot of our elderly neighbours don't want to go to the dump. Mrs. Damini next door doesn't want to go to the dump because she's afraid of the bears. Mr. and Mrs. Lo-a-chie, on the other side, don't like to go to the dump because of the bears. So I've gotten in the habit of picking up the garbage as I go to get rid of the garbage for the neighbours who are afraid to go to the dump. Well, I went with my Uncle Condo, I think it was this summer, and we saw the bears. We drove up and did what we normally do -- made a bit of noise, trying to scare the bears away. But they weren't being scared away, so we took my truck and parked it a little farther away so the bears wouldn't bother us. So here I am, and I know there are no bears where I'm dumping the garbage into the hole. The bears are over there by about 150 feet. I see there are no bears inside the hole. I walk behind my pickup truck, open up the back and take out the garbage bags. I'm talking to Uncle Condo as I throw the garbage in, at which point my Uncle Condo goes, "Holy Jeez, look behind you!" I'm throwing the garbage on top of the bears, because those suckers had walked across during the time I had turned around; they were like five and 10 feet behind me, and I'm throwing garbage bags on to the bears. It was, "Whoa, let's get out of here."

Something could have happened. Some people would say that might have been a good thing, if there had been a by-election in Timmins-James Bay. I think most people would have said no. But the point is that the bears are no longer afraid of humans, and it's getting to be a problem. Even somebody like me, who has grown up in the bush and who understands the rules of the outdoors -- I'm careful and responsible about how I approach this; I looked to see if there were any bears. I'm used to bears. We've had them around for a long time. And here, these bears had no fear. They saw me throwing garbage out of the back of my truck. They're at the point where I'm throwing garbage and I hit one bear square in the head, right in the snout, with the garbage bag. If the bear had got kind of -- thank God there was a steak or something inside that bag, because he didn't come after me; he went after the bag. That was a good thing. That's an interesting thing: "Bisson? Garbage bag? Bisson? Garbage bag?" Imagine the decision that bear had to make. That's scary when I think about it. That's another story.

I've got to tell you another story. We go back and we tell this story to some of our neighbours over a couple of wobbly pops, as we call them back at the cottage. We're having supper over a glass of wine and talking about this bear story. My aunt says, "You know what? Every time I've brought people out to the dump to take a look at bears, I was never lucky to see bears. Can I go with you next time?" I said, "Sure." So I pick up Aunt Carmen, I put her in the truck, we drive out to the dump, and there, behold, are about four, five or six bears. We're sitting there looking at the bears; we're inside the truck where it's nice and safe. Finally, the bears kind of move away, so I open the truck door and my aunt is going, "Gilles, Gilles, arrête. Don't do that. The bear is going to come after us." I say, "Ma tante, don't worry." I grab the garbage bags, I throw them inside the hole at the dump, I get back in the truck and I sit down.

Now, because I was throwing the garbage, the bears got attracted. This is the interesting part, back to my point that they're no longer afraid. The bear didn't only come up to sniff the garbage, didn't only put his paws on my truck and look at the window; it got in the back, the box of my truck. Here my aunt is panicking inside the truck somewhat, saying, "Look at that. The bear is in the back of the truck. What do we do?" I said, "Let's drive and show it to Uncle Condo." I didn't have the nerve to do that, because I would have brought the bear into a populated area, but that was my reaction. My point is, the bears aren't afraid any more. The bears are basically in contact with humans much more than they have ever been before, to the point where the fearful part is that they're not afraid.

Another story: In Smooth Rock Falls, a gentleman -- and I can't remember his name. I wish I had called for the name. If I had called Réjeanne Demeules, the mayor, she would have told me. This guy was at a celebration that the community was putting on last year, I think it was. The story with him is, he comes walking out of the arena at the celebration, in the middle of summer, on an August day, walking across the town as he normally does to get back to his house. He turns the corner at the schoolyard, and what does he come in contact with? A big black bear. Now, he kind of got scared, so he raised his arm. The bear took a swipe at him and scraped him, the whole bit. Now, you should see the bear. I've got to say, the bear fared less well than the guy did. The guy only got swiped at. I wonder what happened to the bear. The point is, they're not afraid of humans any more and that's really what we need to take seriously.

One other thing before I wrap up. One of the things that happened, again this summer: We've had this cottage at Kamiskotia since about 1961, and we have never seen bears on our property. Mrs. Damini or Mr. Lane next door, or ourselves, or the Lo-a-chies or the Albertsons, or the Vincoeurs, we've never seen bears on our property. They've just always stayed away. What we've started to see last year and this year is that the bears are starting to incur on to our properties. They are not satisfied staying at the dump; they're now coming up to the cottages and they're looking for garbage in our garbage cans. We're responsible cottagers; we don't keep garbage in our garbage cans. But to show you the degree to which these bears are persistent, I've got this garage that's built out of railway ties that my father built before he died. He built this great garage out of railway ties, a pretty solid thing. I've got a habit that if I leave the cottage, I take my garbage cans and I put them inside the garage and lock it up because I don't want the bears being attracted by the scent of an empty garbage can, those plastic ones with the covers on them.

So I go away, and my mom comes in the next day to the cottage. My mom is 70-some years old; I won't say her age. She drives the car in and she walks into the cottage. She didn't notice, but the bear was around where the garage is. It was a neighbour who noticed that the bear was scratching at the door of the garage, had ripped part of the door apart, and was trying to dig underneath to get inside the garage. It luckily couldn't get in because I have a cement floor there so he couldn't dig his way underneath. My mother walked right by the bear. She happened not to see it because the bear was down and not scratching at the door as she walked in. Now, the point is, what can a 70-some-year-old woman or anybody do if they walk into a bear? It can be a very dangerous situation.

I think a couple of things need to be done. The government has said that they were willing to re-upload the responsibility of taking care of the nuisance bears. I think that's a good thing. That's something that we, as New Democrats, called for. But we've not done the kind of stuff that we need to do in order to protect citizens when it comes to bears. For example, there was supposed to be a program put out where basically the government was going to spend some money on trying to do some public education about what to do when you're in contact with a bear, because for a lot of people, it's just a natural reaction, if you run across a bear, what you do. There are things that you should do and things that you shouldn't do, and if you do the wrong thing, the bear may come after you. Those are some of the things that I think the government needs to look at.

This motion? Obviously, we're going to support it.

You didn't tell me anything. Do you want time?

Ms. Andrea Horwath (Hamilton East): It's OK.

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Mr. Bisson: OK. She says to keep on going. I just looked up at the time and noticed where I was at.

Anyway, I say to the government, I think there's not going to be anybody who is going to vote against this motion. As parents, as citizens of our communities and as MPPs, it's a no-brainer. We're all in favour of doing more to protect the public from nuisance bears. But I go back to my original question to Madame Smith from Nipissing -- I forget the name of the riding.

Ms. Smith: It's just Nipissing.

Mr. Bisson: Just Nipissing. Sorry. I really want to make clear what you're saying here, because what I thought I heard you say in the debate was that you were in favour of the reintroduction of the spring bear hunt. If that's the case, there are people in northern Ontario who would agree with you. I just think that what you should do is be clear, yes or no, are you in favour? If you are, I'd like to know an answer to the question, why, then, did you not put into the motion that we should vote here today, this day, on the reintroduction of the spring bear hunt? If you can answer those two questions, that would be very helpful.

I say again to my colleagues, we will be in support. I'm sure we have not heard the last of the bear story. It's an issue that I think affects many people across Ontario. We need to figure out what to do with this, because as Madame Smith has said -- she's right, and I totally agree with her on this -- somebody is going to get hurt. We've already had somebody killed this summer in Missinaibi Park. We're now at the point where we're seeing bears in schoolyards, and she pointed that out in her debate, quite rightfully. I know it's happened in my constituency, where bears have been sighted during the school year in the schoolyard at an elementary school. That's pretty scary stuff. I think we need to figure out what we can do as legislators to be able to make it safe so that people are not put at risk because of the increasing bear population and the bears being less afraid and coming into our communities. We need to do what we can to make it safe, and we will vote for this motion.

Mr. Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay-Atikokan): It is my pleasure to rise today and speak to this motion. I'd like to thank the member from Nipissing for introducing it. The member is from North Bay as well, and being from Thunder Bay, I think that people from southern Ontario sometimes confuse the two. We're only about 10 or 15 hours apart by car. It's a bit of a segue, though, into this issue, because I think this issue was confused by those in southern Ontario as well when they were trying to get it right back in 1999.

I can tell you that one of the first times I spoke in caucus after the election was on this issue. It was then, and it is still now, a very sensitive issue in northern Ontario, and I think that in short order it is going to become a bit more of a sensitive issue in southern Ontario as well.

If we go back to 1999 and look at the history of what was intended here, beginning with the chronology of Harris and Snobelen and the Shad Foundation, the intention as an animal welfare issue, I think -- at least that put out there for public consumption -- was that we were going to try and limit the number of bear cubs that were orphaned through the spring bear hunt. That is what was put forward as the reason for substantiating the cancellation of the hunt, that there were too many cubs being orphaned. Well, in fact, as is often the case when we sometimes meddle with Mother Nature, we get it exactly wrong. If you talk to the people in the know, they will be the first ones to tell you that this cancellation of the spring bear hunt has had probably the exact opposite effect. There are probably -- and according to them, most assuredly -- more bear cubs being orphaned now than there were before the cancellation of the hunt, and that's for two or three different reasons.

One is that during the spring bear hunt, there were many more adult male bears that were being culled. Of all the bears being taken during the spring hunt, about 70% of them were male bears. Of course, when there are more male bears in the bush, they become very cannibalistic in their nature when they get hungry; in fact, they will take bear cubs, and that's what's happening now as there are more male bears allowed to be in the bush.

In the fall hunt, there are now more female bears being mistakenly taken as well, which of course leads to cubs being orphaned.

The third thing, and most important, I think, for this Legislature to consider, is that there is a phenomenon that's occurring in northern Ontario now, and it's referred to where I come from as the "shoot, shovel and shut up" approach. As the number of large bears increases, people are taking matters into their own hands. If you think this policy is stopping the orphaning of bear cubs, I can tell you that when people live in remote communities, when they feel that their lives are in danger, that their children's lives are in danger, that their property is in danger, they are in fact taking matters into their own hands and shooting these bears. Many of them are not turning up in the numbers we see that are reported to MNR; they're just being killed. Of course, the result of that is orphan cubs as well. So if you are somebody out there who is concerned about animal welfare and you think that this policy was well-intentioned, I call tell you it's having exactly the opposite effect to what was intended. There are two main issues for me as well: the safety and the economic issues that this policy has affected.

In my riding of Thunder Bay-Atikokan, I think I can safely say that, overwhelmingly, the people I represent in that constituency all would see this issue as having gotten greatly out of control. The sightings are increasing exponentially, as has been mentioned by the member from Nipissing. I can tell you there are schools that no longer put their kids out for recess in the fall, because they are afraid. There are too many bears in town. I can tell you about an individual who was pulled by a bear out of his tent and was being drawn into the bush, the bear seeing him now as a food source.

One of the things we're told is the reason for the increase in sightings is that it was a bad crop year, or that there was not enough food in the bush. Well, we had many years previously where there were bad crop years, and we did not see the increased number of sightings. There are things going on, and primarily what it is is that there are too bears many in the bush.

I don't like the word "nuisance" bear, either. I think that severely understates the seriousness of this issue. These are dangerous animals that will kill at a moment's notice.

I have to go quickly. I apologize.

Economically: Ecotourism does not replace what was lost by the fall hunt. This was a $40-million annual revenue stream in the north. If you multiply that, on a relative basis, that would be a multi-billion dollar industry in southern Ontario.

I'm told I need to wrap up. I apologize for rushing through this.

I want to comment on the bear wise program. I think it is something that was well-intended. It has gone, through its education and prevention strategies, a fair way to trying to help a little bit, but clearly, this is a much more serious issue than can be addressed by simply the bear wise program. We need to give serious reconsideration to the reinstatement of the hunt.

Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): We're debating a resolution that the government do "whatever is necessary to protect the citizens of Ontario from nuisance bears." I feel it is a much broader issue than that. It's an economic issue -- certainly in the north -- and it's a heritage issue.

The controversy has been around, I guess, since the mid-1980s. There were areas in North America where populations were declining, and much of that has rebounded, but that's certainly not a problem in the province of Ontario where the black bear population is one of the largest in North America. MNR had some conservative estimates two years ago of 75,000 to 100,000 bears. I think they've rejigged that to 150,000 bears, and I hear estimates of 200,000 bears.

With any large population of an animal like that, one of the most effective means of population control is hunting. Hunting is a management tool. It's a tool that is more than appropriate with respect to increasing populations of cormorants, for example, raccoons and possums. We have an issue in our area with the possum cycle. I think of deer. Myself, I've smashed into two deer in the last year. I've smashed two cars now. That tells me there are too many deer in my area. Again, hunting is the biological control.

However, banning the hunting of bears in the spring was not, at the time, a biological sustainability issue. As has been said here today, it was an issue related to the practice of hunting, to the position that young bears were potentially orphaned at that time of the year at a time when they're highly dependent on their mothers. But again, if you shoot a bear at the dump or kill one in your backyard in the spring, you have potentially created an orphaned cub. There are other reasons for cub mortality: starvation, for one, and the killing of cubs by male bears. I don't know whether they eat them or not. That's where we have to rely on expert opinion and science.

We have an ongoing controversy on the spring bear hunt. I fully support continued, objective, research-based analysis of the issue and scientific investigation. Much study has been done. I don't know how much of that has been made public or if the general public is aware of it, and I certainly don't think much of that has been acted on. Ongoing, independent external reviews are very important.

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Of course, safety is paramount. The protection of our environment and the management of species like bears is dependant on a number of things. I feel it's very important that we maintain the legislative protection of our heritage rights and that we continue to rekindle the interest of young people in hunting. We have the hunter apprenticeship safety program in Ontario. That's an excellent program. We have legislation that protects the heritage of hunting and fishing. All of this, in my view, is very important for future generations, not only in northern Ontario but in southern Ontario.

I live in the sticks. I'm a hunter. I smash into deer with my car. I guess I get my limit that way. For many of us in the south and the north, hunting is a way of life, and that includes the spring bear hunt.

Mr. David Orazietti (Sault Ste. Marie): I know our time is limited and there are numerous speakers today, so I will try to condense what I have as best as possible. First let me say that I fully support the member from Nipissing's resolution to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the safety of Ontarians is paramount. Certainly in northern Ontario, in the riding of Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding area, this has become a much larger issue in recent years. I can recall being on city council, and a trapper who was contracted by the city used to get about 15 to 20 calls about nuisance bears in the area of Sault Ste. Marie. Following the 1999 cancellation of the hunt, that number escalated to 250, to 600, and there are now well over 900 calls of reported bears in Sault Ste. Marie and area. A Web site, sootoday.com, continually posts bear sightings, and if anybody logs on there, they can see just how many sightings we're talking about. We're not talking about an area that is in the wilderness, in the backwoods of northern Ontario; we're talking about residential areas, main streets, schoolyards and the like.

I would like to read a brief article that appeared in the October 1, 2005, Sault Star. This certainly doesn't have much to do with wildlife science. It's important to get the history of the cancellation on the record here at Queen's Park. This was written by a former NDP candidate in the Algoma-Manitoulin riding and I think it's right on the mark:

"Many northerners believe this is the inevitable result of the cancellation of the spring bear hunt in 1999, a decision that continues to produce as much controversy and polarized opinion as the hunt, itself, did.

"Why was the hunt cancelled?

"It had nothing to do with the preservation of black bears in Ontario. The estimated bear population in the province, then and now, is between 75,000 and 100,000 animals, which is close to capacity for the available range.

"The government's stated reason for the cancellation of the spring hunt was concern over the orphaning of bear cubs that was alleged to have occurred when hunters mistakenly shot nursing sows. The more widely accepted reason for the hunt cancellation was that the Tory government of the time blinked when a group opposed to the bear hunt threatened to mount a vigorous campaign in ... 1999 ... against eight first-term Tory MPPs in southern Ontario who won their seats by a narrow margin of victory in the 1995 election. The group, funded by industrialist Robert Schad, distributed videos concerning the bear hunt to homes in the `swing' ridings and conducted billboard campaigns against the hunt in southern Ontario.

"The number of bear cubs orphaned wasn't really significant -- in the eyes of the anti-hunting groups and, ultimately, then Minister of Natural Resources John Snobelen, any number was too many. There are far more cubs orphaned each year by ... vehicle collisions than the number orphaned by the spring bear hunt. But the images of cute cubs on billboards in Toronto and the probable reaction of people in the southern portion of the province was too much for the Tories to ignore. They went ahead with the cancellation of the hunt, even in the face of concern over how much political clout and influence an interest group with deep pockets could have over the Ontario government. Ironically, the number of cubs actually orphaned has still never been accurately quantified.

"Rather than investing some money in an objective analysis of the mortality of cubs, the group spearheading the cancellation drive seized upon hypothetical estimates and stated them as fact on numerous occasions."

The addition in Ontario of 20,000 large bears over the past six years is an incredible concern, both in northern areas and throughout the province. The article concludes by saying, "Any measures that the bear management strategy concludes are necessary, including the reinstatement of the spring bear hunt, should be implemented. Never again in Ontario should biologically correct wildlife management strategies be trumped by political manoeuvring."

The presence of bears in the Sault Ste. Marie area in the community and in the city -- I think we're fooling ourselves if we're thinking that these bears are not being shot. They're being shot now by city police officers and by the OPP. In schoolyards, there are reports of recesses being cancelled in Sault Ste. Marie; kids can't go out and enjoy some fresh air because there are bears in the schoolyards. As a former teacher, I recall getting notes from students who had come late to class, saying, "I couldn't get to the car because there was a bear in the driveway."

I just want to express my complete support for the member from Nipissing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we protect the safety of all Ontarians.

The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?

Mr. Jerry J. Ouellette (Oshawa): This is actually a topic that I'm very passionate about and I could spend a lot of time speaking about it. I'm going to be very succinct in the time remaining on some of the issues.

We talked about reporting bears. I'll give you an example. I hired an individual just outside of Timmins, in Mr. Bisson's riding. Pierre said a bear came into his yard up in Foleyet and killed his dog. I asked him, "Did you report it?" He said, "Oh, absolutely. I reported that bear." I said, "Well, do you remember about eight years ago, when you had the bear in the barnyard, and you went in and grabbed the gun and came out? It had gone from the barnyard into the tack shop, and when you were standing there, you could hear a noise. You turned and looked, and the bear ran right overtop of you. You shot it and it fell dead after it had knocked you over. Did you report that one?" He said, "Well, no. Why?" I said, "Why would you report one that kills your dog, but you wouldn't report the other one?" That's because the incidence of reporting is now almost 100%. You're seeing a large number of incidents being reported because of those bases, because people are reporting them, and they should have been doing that in the first place.

Some of other things that need to be made very clear: When you're talking about territories of bears, the average boar or male bear will range up to 90 miles as part of their territory. I read in a book dealing with Oshawa, printed by Dr. Hoig, which stated that in 1918, an individual had just picked up his new car and drove to the ridges in Oshawa, which is about halfway between Port Perry and Oshawa. He saw a big black bear -- it could have been any size -- and he turned around and came back. In other words, the point I'm trying to make is that the range of bears has extended throughout the province of Ontario, and documents right back to 1918, when you talk about those things.

You talk about municipalities taking on the responsibility. One of the positions within the ministry was that if you take on the responsibility of bears, what happens with deer? What happens, for example, as on my street, when a deer crashes through the school window and goes right into the school? What happens with racoons, opossums, beavers and all the other animals? Or birds and bird droppings? I know I get complaints because birds are leaving droppings in one place in one particular house. What happens with all those incidents? Is it the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources to take on all those actions and correct them all? No, I don't believe so, because once you accept the responsibility, and total responsibility, for one animal, then you take on the onus of accepting responsibility for all the other animals as well.

The member from Thunder Bay mentioned bears killing cubs. The reason for that is a practice called infanticide. What takes place is the boars go out, they find the cubs and kill them in order to bring the females back into season so they can breed them so that their prodigy or their life cycle or genes can continue on in cycle. That's the main reason that bears practice infanticide.

My, my, how we've changed from the NDP, when Frances Lankin stood up in this Legislature and gave out little tiny teddy bears to everybody. Soft, little teddy bears were going to be saved because the spring bear hunt was now protected. Well, guess what? The reality of the situation now is that bears are doing what bears do best, and that's going out to feed and get involved. They participate in activities and, all of a sudden, people are starting to realize, "Oh, my God. I'm seeing bears in my cottage now like never before, and they're not afraid of me."

1150

The spring bear hunt was more about managing the population numbers. The report in 2003 indicated that the numbers should not increase until 2005 because of the cancellation of the hunt. The reality of that situation is that bears are creatures of habit. In the springtime, when they are chased by dogs and shot at by people, they realize, "People: bad things; stay away." There was a report handed to me by a person, Vern Mason, that indicated that the reason the bears were going inside and ripping open tents and sleeping bags was because of the same thing Mr. Bisson mentioned. Guess what? At the dump, they smell humans, they smell garbage, they associate it with food and they rip the bag open. The same thing with tents and sleeping bags: All of a sudden they smell humans, they associate that with past practices, and they tear open the tent or the sleeping bag because they assume there is food there.

It's negative reinforcement that needs to take place, and that's what happened with spring bear hunt. You had negative reinforcement, negatively imprinting humans on bears, and they stayed away from them. When you closed that, it stopped that.

Bear populations are very difficult to assess. There is a tuna can bait line they use to try to determine the numbers, but it's very difficult to determine. In the same fashion that they determine the deer population and how the tags are allocated in that area -- and that's done because of the amount of crop damage reported, as well as the number of car incidents that take place -- they do the same thing with bears. When there's a large number reporting and a large number of incidents, they potentially have the opportunity to increase the tag allocations in that area to deal with that.

The study in 2003 was designed to effectively determine what is in the best interest not only of people but of bears as a population as well. With the large number and potentially increasing number of incidents, I expect we sshould see more. The one thing I'm disappointed about in the resolution is that we should have concrete actions in the resolution. I will be supporting it, as I did -- and I've been on the record. I've been on radio shows stating that I think the spring bear hunt is something that should be continued. It doesn't help me a lot in Oshawa, but it's a personal belief. In this particular resolution, I think some more action specifically telling us what and how we can move forward would be far more positive.

Mr. Michael Gravelle (Thunder Bay-Superior North): First of all, I want to thank my colleague from Nipissing, Ms. Smith, for bringing this resolution forward. In my opinion, this debate is long overdue. Indeed, there should be little argument that the province should be doing whatever it can to protect all its citizens from the nuisance bear problem. The question then becomes, what exactly should we do to deal with this increasingly dangerous situation?

In my opinion, we should begin by listening to the people who are affected by this problem: our constituents, all of whom are northern residents, for those of us in the north. For the past several years, I have been inundated with calls from many constituents terrified as a result of their encounters with bears. Regardless of what ministry officials say about the number of calls they've received, this past summer was the worst in terms of calls I've received. People from Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber -- in fact, every community I represent -- contacted me by phone to tell their story. On two occasions, constituents actually called me at home while the bear was clawing at their door. Bears are wandering through towns, school yards, backyards, around daycare centers. They are clearly a real danger to our citizens.

Frankly, my constituents become very frustrated when they are told that the problem is a result of a bad berry crop, or they're told to empty their bird feeders or to tightly enclose their household garbage or to be sure to clean their barbecue grill. They are already doing this -- perhaps they need to be reminded, but they are already doing this -- but the problem continues to get worse.

What we do know is that there are more bears out there than ever, and they appear to have lost their fear of human contact. As we all know, deadly tragedies occurred this past summer, and I fear more will take place unless we deal with the situation in a more aggressive manner. At a time when we are hearing discussions of a bear cull, I want to put on the record today a call for a similar discussion on the return of the spring bear hunt -- a more humane, controlled hunt, for sure, but a return nonetheless.

I don't think that anyone in this House would dispute that the cancellation of the hunt in 1999 was purely politically motivated. Not even my Conservative colleagues across the floor, whose government made that decision, would disagree with me. Indeed, the consequences of that decision have been economic devastation for tourist lodge operators in the north and, I would argue, the truly dangerous situation we are facing today. While I do not think that the return of the spring bear hunt will immediately improve the problem, I have become convinced that an improved, properly run spring hunt will make a difference.

But perhaps just as importantly, agreement to begin discussion on the return of the hunt would send an important message to northerners, the message that we are listening to them. We told northerners during the last campaign that decisions affecting the north would be made by northerners. I believe that was a commitment that was genuinely and sincerely made, but in light of the serious concerns regarding the human-bear contact over the past several summers, it's become all the more important that we live up to that commitment. Certainly, a reopening of the discussion regarding reinstatement of the spring bear hunt would send a very clear message that we are indeed listening.

Mr. Tim Peterson (Mississauga South): In the very brief time, it's great to wrap up on behalf of the members from Nipissing, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay-Atikokan, Thunder Bay-Superior North and Oshawa.

I would like to raise this challenge with the member from Oshawa and the member from Timmins: that we approach our leaders to look at revising and helping to get the bear hunt back. The official position of all the parties is that the bear hunt should be banned. I think it's incumbent on us as backbenchers to take a personal challenge to our leaders and talk to them about that.

From my point of view as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Tourism, the effect on tourism in the north has been devastating. It's approximately a $40-million industry. As part of my job as parliamentary assistant, I did a trails consultation across Ontario. In northern Ontario we have the largest and best-run snowmobile trails in all the world. The 43,000 kilometres of snowmobile trails allow us access to nature and allow us to understand our Canadian heritage, for the real Ontarian personality is built in northern Ontario in our interaction with all forms of nature, including the wildlife there.

It is great to support this motion. I compliment the member from Nipissing for bringing it forward. I also hope it leads to concrete action.

The Deputy Speaker: Ms. Smith, you have two minutes to reply.

Ms. Smith: I'd like to thank those who joined us in this debate this morning: the members for Parry Sound-Muskoka, Timmins-James Bay, Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant, Oshawa, Thunder Bay-Superior North, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay-Atikokan and Mississauga South.

I'd like to address a couple of the concerns and issues that were raised by some of my colleagues. I was delighted to hear that the member for Parry Sound-Muskoka is onside with us on this, because his caucus is notoriously not onside for a lot of northern issues. It's good to see you're supporting the north.

As many of you will remember, it was former Premier Mike Harris, who formerly represented the riding of Nipissing, who cancelled the bear hunt and left a lot of northerners feeling betrayed. The basis of that decision was not scientific, but was strictly political. Now we have the leader of the Conservative Party, John Tory, up in North Bay, and when asked about nuisance bears, he said more study was needed. I'm glad to see that some of his colleagues, members of his caucus, are onside for the reinstatement of the spring bear hunt. I hope you will have some success in convincing your leader of the need for it.

With respect to the comments from the member for Timmins-James Bay, I have been clear throughout my campaign in Nipissing and here in the House that I am in support of the return of a limited spring bear hunt. I've been clear on that since the beginning; I haven't wavered. There have to be some restrictions, but I believe that the return of the spring bear hunt is part of the management process that will reduce the number of nuisance bears in the north and increase the safety of our residents, including our children and seniors. I think it's a sad indication that your party here, represented by seven members, three of whom are from the north, cannot see fit to support the return of the spring bear hunt, but I leave it to you to convince your fellow members that it's needed here in the community.

You also asked about the education process. Our government has in fact invested $900,000 in 165 projects involving prevention, education and awareness through the bear wise program. I know first-hand from my discussions with MNR staff members in my area that they're in the schools, teaching our children about how to be bear wise. I think that is a really important part of this whole strategy on how to increase safety and deal with some of the concerns that have been raised here this morning.

Comment on the MPP Monique Smith's Motion, and the parliamentary discussion on
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