Despite a debate in the Ontario legislature yesterday, the Ontario SPCA will not come under government oversight. For more than six months, since a ringworm outbreak resulted in 102 animal euthanizations at the York Region OSPCA branch in May, Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees has championed a resolution calling for the animal agency to come under the authority of the province’s community safety and correctional services minister. After a lengthy debate, Mr. Klees’ resolution was defeated. “It was a good debate and we exposed the flaws in the system,” he said. “But I’m disappointed this government washed its hands of the issue. This is not a dead issue.” Mr. Klees’ resolution also called for the separation of inspection and enforcement powers from the organization’s role as a charity and animal shelter. He presented evidence from past and present OSPCA employees, volunteers and enforcement officers to address their concerns. “We showed there is a conflict there,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is the current system flawed?’”
During the debate, many Liberal MPPs supported Mr. Klees’ fight, but did not support the resolution itself, calling for the completion of an ongoing review following the ringworm outbreak. But the investigation only calls into question the issue at the York Region branch, Mr. Klees said. There is a broader concern here, he said, noting he called for a review of the OSPCA’s existing powers.
But with oversight should come government funding, OSPCA board chairperson Rob Godfrey said. “Why wasn’t this brought up under the old (Progressive Conservative) government,” he said. “There was no oversight then, either. But I would suggest with more oversight, there needs to be funding. If we had $25 million or so, we would have the best trained staff in North America.” Mr. Godfrey questions if government oversight means more bureaucracy and reporting to a provincial agent or if the animal agency becomes a crown corporation run by civil servants. “This debate is politically motivated and has little to do with animal welfare,” he said. “We’re not playing the political game. We have to move with the best foot forward.” New Democratic Party members supported Mr. Klees’ private member bill. “It’s a charity acting like a police force without supervision,” Parkdale-High Park NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo said during the debate. “Why is the focus (of the OSPCA) on the grandmother who can’t afford to fight for her animals rather than the active abuse found in puppy mills and dogfights. This is horrific.” The resolution was defeated 24 to 17. Those in favour of the resolution includes Mr. Klees, Oak Ridges-Markham Liberal MPP Helena Jaczek and Conservative York-Simcoe MPP Julia Munro.
While politicians debated the fate of the OSPCA, the local shelter is the subject of an independent investigation conducted by the former Ontario Veterinary College dean Dr. Alan Meek and former Ontario Superior Court chief justice Patrick LeSage. “The end game is not political,” Mr. Godfrey said. “Our goal is the same as it was 100 years ago — the welfare of animals. All this political debate takes away from the real issue of policing animal welfare.” Mr. Godfrey plans to meet with the province’s attorney general to ensure both are on the same page when it comes to policing animal welfare in the province. “If we turn the keys back to the government, (animal welfare) will fall into the hands of the local police force,” he said. “Those forces are already understaffed.” The independent investigation is on track, Mr. Godfrey said. Meanwhile, the York Region shelter is still undergoing cleaning and decontamination procedures and it has not been made public when it will reopen.