The Curious Story of the MNR and the University of Waterloo by Shirley Dolan
Last month Donna Burns wrote about a scheme cooked up by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) that involved a company called Thunderhouse Forest Services (TFS) from Hearst Ontario whereby TFS, with the support of MNR, were studying trees and species habitat on private property – without the permission of the property owner. See the full story here. The study seemed to be taking place mostly in Renfrew County. We now have a similar story coming from Landowners in the Niagara Region – and it is very bizarre!
The MNR administers two programs for eligible landowners: Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program (CLTIP) and Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP). These two voluntary programs are available to landowners and offer 100% tax exception in the case of the CLTIP and 25% of the municipal tax rate for the MFTIP if the property owner is eligible and complies with the program’s land use restrictions.
Landowners in Ontario have been receiving letters from the University of Waterloo School of Planning, requesting their participation in a research project investigating landowners’ views on these two programs. According to a letter sent to the sampled landowners, the study has the support of the MNR, and according to information about the study, the participants’ names and addresses were drawn from the MNR’s database of CLTIP and MFTIP eligible landowners. Eligible appears to mean “could qualify for the program but not necessarily in the program”. Did you know the MNR keeps a list of landowners who might be eligible for these two programs?
The information sheet goes on to say that “It is anticipated that the results from the study will in time assist decision-making as well as design and administration of programs in order to promote successful environmental stewardship on private lands in Ontario”. This statement combined with the fact that the survey director is from the University of Waterloo School of Planning should set off warning bells with anyone who has received a request to participate in the study.
The story gets even more twisted. The study is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Ever heard of them? I hadn’t, so I had a look at their website where it says: leading initiatives that reflect a commitment to ensuring a better future for Canada and the world.
Created by an act of Canada’s Parliament in 1977, SSHRC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Industry.”
Curiouser and curiouser! I’m not sure how the University of Waterloo’s study fits with this mandate, but part of the funding provided by SSHRC was distributed in the form of $5 bills included in the letter sent to the 1200 landowners selected to participate in the study. If this wasn’t bizarre enough, the letter goes on to say that “… because of the rules of the Revenue Canada Agency, we have to let you know that the amount received is taxable and that it is your responsibility to report this amount for income tax purposes.”
So let me get this straight: the University of Waterloo School of Planning is conducting a survey, with the support of the MNR, funded by a federal agency SSHRC, and part of the incentive to participate is an unsolicited gift of $5 of our tax money. And the objective is to learn how to better promote control of private property (my interpretation). Further, the landowner has to remember to claim that $5 bill on his income tax.
Stay tuned! This story warrants more research.