Dianne Saxe is the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), a tough but fair watchdog over Ontario’s environmental, energy and climate performance, and guardian of the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).
Prior to her appointment in December 2015, Dianne was one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers. She has 40 years’ unparalleled experience writing, interpreting, and litigating Ontario’s energy and environmental laws. Dianne’s career began with the Ontario Public Service and two major Bay Street law firms. She then established one of Canada’s top environmental law firms.
A Certified Environmental Law Specialist, Dianne was recognized in every Canadian and international legal rating service, including acknowledgement as one of the world’s top 25 environmental lawyers by Best of the Best, 2008 and as Best Lawyers’ first Environmental Lawyer of the Year for Toronto. Some of her numerous tributes and honours include the Award for Distinguished Service, the highest honour granted by the Ontario Bar Association; and the Gold Key Award for exceptional lifetime professional achievement, granted by Osgoode Hall Law School Alumni.
Dianne has travelled extensively in Ontario and Canada, both in her professional practice and as a keen canoeist, kayaker and cross-country skier.
Her five-year appointment will be focused on serving the Ontario Legislature, improving the effectiveness of the Environmental Bill of Rights and catalyzing better environmental, energy and climate outcomes, for and with the people of Ontario.
What does it mean to you to be the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario?
"I am enormously honoured to have the privilege of serving as the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. In a way, it is the job I have been working towards my entire life. I want to make a difference on major environmental, energy and climate issues, and to leave a better world for my children and grandchildren."
What do you hope will have changed in Ontario when your five-year term as Commissioner is completed?
I hope to have made the Commissioner’s office, and the Environmental Bill of Rights, matter much more to Ontario citizens than ever before. I hope to have advanced better outcomes on a range of important environmental, energy and climate issues, and to have inspired and empowered Ontarians to continue to do more themselves.
You ran a successful environmental law practice and received many awards and tributes, so why did you apply to be Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner?
I loved my 40 years in the practice of law, but private practice is a retail business. I worked on the problems of individual clients, and could only make a limited contribution on the larger issues that are of importance to us all. Now I can focus on those larger issues. Instead of asking "what is best for the client?", I can now ask "what is best for Ontario?".
What are your biggest frustrations with the current environment and energy circumstance in Ontario?
The climate crisis is much more urgent and important than most people realize. Not enough regulatory and private sector energy and money is spent on the issues that matter the most.
What are the most pressing environmental challenges currently faced by Ontario?
To permit a good quality of life without continuing to degrade and destroy the physical and biological systems on which our lives depend. We need much more rigorous and effective land-use and transportation planning. Finding our way to a low-carbon economy and biological diversity are both key issues. Adapting to the enormous climate changes that are already on their way will be challenging.
What motivated you to become an environmental lawyer?
A mad passion for the natural world, and the intersection of law, policy and science.
Which of your accomplishments in your environmental law career makes you the most proud?
Winning $115 million a year from Stewardship Ontario to fund Ontario municipal blue box programs, after 15 years of underfunding.
What has been the single largest positive change in Ontario’s environment regulatory system since your career began?
The Environmental Bill of Rights, and the general shift to more open government and greater transparency. Also, greater awareness of the close integration between environmental and economic issues.
Who has been most influential in shaping your leadership style?
My father, my late husband and a dear friend who specializes in change management. Also, being a working mother of three very active children.
What actions have been most influential in shaping your career and worldview?
The opportunities I have had to work for all sectors of the economy: public, private and non-profit.
What advice would you give business leaders trying to reduce the environmental footprint of their company or corporation?
You cannot manage what you do not measure. Also, take your impact as seriously as if a person you love were the one most affected.
What career advice do you have for recent graduates?
Be flexible and patient. It took me nearly 10 years to get my first environmental job. Polish your skills on whatever comes to hand, but keep your eyes open for what you really want. Look for opportunities to contribute. Be kind and be grateful for the help and opportunities that come your way. Support and encourage others.
What inspires you?
The beauty of nature, the sweet joy and hope of children, and the successes of others against great odds.
If you had the “day off” what would you be doing?
I would be paddling, skiing or cycling in some beautiful natural place with my dog and someone dear.