Let’s get government out of the way of volunteers

By MPP Toby Barrett

Volunteers are the roots of strong communities. Volunteers organize everything from festivals, minor and adult sports leagues, and town halls to running Legions, churches and community centres.

Volunteers contribute to the health, spiritual well-being and socio-economic activity of people in Ontario. Today, we often focus on the bad, forgetting about those around us who share their time, energy, compassion and support, all to everything that is good about our way of life.

Regrettably, our volunteers are being threatened by a growing mountain of unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and regulation.

At the recent Long Point and Area Fish and Game Club Yard Sale, I paid my modest $4 admission fee and then, as I always do, proceeded to the table to purchase a raffle ticket to further support worthy outdoors activity. This year I was told organizers weren’t holding the lottery because of the red tape associated with getting a license.

My office also hears from local Legion representatives who no longer qualify for a lottery license for break-open tickets usually sold at their bar. Apparently keeping a Legion open is not a priority use for lottery funds. I shake my head, thinking of all that our Legions do – organizing Remembrance Day services, supporting local sport teams and providing a community meeting place. Legions already face many challenges with aging members and high energy costs.

The problem is the initiative to tighten lottery regulations, for instance, was never before the Legislature. Something like that is dealt with at the regulation stage within the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, for instance. The appropriate cabinet minister could have been privy to the changes, but individual MPPs were not.

These suffocating salvos against community groups follow new health regulations requiring non-profit groups to upgrade their kitchens and take food handling courses. When was the last time someone fell ill after a local church dinner? Probably nobody attends more of these functions across Haldimand-Norfolk than I so I can attest to this.

This problem is not unique to Haldimand and Norfolk. My fellow Opposition Caucus member MPP Jim Wilson saw problems in his riding of Simcoe-Grey. He presented a Private Member’s Resolution in February 2015, calling on government to strike a committee to investigate the legislative and regulatory barriers and burdens facing the province’s service clubs. After the government delayed the vote on the motion for a year, it received unanimous support.

“Service clubs relieve the financial burden while providing intrinsic social benefits . . they are a win-win, which is why it is so important that we as legislators make it as easy as possible for them to continue to do the good work they do,” Wilson said.

MPP Wilson held a series of roundtables with service club representatives at Queen’s Park. One of the most ridiculous examples presented was that of a service club that spent months waiting for approval for a river race of rubber turtles and logs because the regulations only allow for rubber duck races. Approval was required from the municipality, the police, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment.

Instead of beating down our  volunteers, we need to be building them up, giving them the green light they need to succeed.