Since 1994, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) has drawn attention to, and prompted government action on, many environmental issues. Here are just a few examples.
In our 2008/2009 Annual Report, the ECO recommended that the government pass anti-SLAPP legislation. SLAPPs – short for “strategic lawsuits against public participation” – refer to civil actions (usually defamation lawsuits) that are initiated, without merit, for the purpose of intimidating or silencing critics who speak out on matters of public interest. In 2015, the government passed the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2015.
The ECO’s 2015 climate data roundtable and subsequent report prompted the government to commit in its 2015 climate change strategy to establishing a climate change modeling collaborative for climate data.
The ECO’s 2013/2014 Annual Report article on the environmental impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides played a key role in the conversations leading up to the government’s new restrictions on neonicotinoid use.
In November 2012, the ECO hosted a 30-person stakeholder roundtable on waste diversion and extended producer responsibility (EPR) at Queen’s Park. The roundtable, and the accompanying report, was cited by the Minister of the Environment and other stakeholders as extremely helpful at helping advance conversations on a stagnant issue.
In 2009, the ECO highlighted the importance of soil organic matter, and the need to monitor and promote soil health. Since then, the ECO has reported repeatedly on the importance of compost, the benefits of raising soil organic matter, and the value of healthy soils. We also highlighted the issue of soil carbon in greenhouse gas reports and by holding a 2012 Soil-Carbon Roundtable. Slowly, we have seen the Ministry of Agriculture, Farms and Rural Affairs come around to this issue. The ministry: has adopted soil health as a high priority; is working on a soil-health strategy; and has created an advisory group to provide a wide range of expert input.
In 2001/2002 and 2002/2003, the ECO called on the government to develop a strategy to protect Ontario's biodiversity (plants, animals and natural spaces). The government listened, and in October 2004, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry consulted the public on a biodiversity strategy for Ontario. When this strategy expired in 2010, the ECO’s 2012 special report on biodiversity urged the government to develop a new strategic plan of action to conserve, protect, and recover our province’s biological diversity. The government released its new biodiversity strategy later that year.
The ECO called for a provincial Invasive Species Strategy and invasive species legislation in our 2003/2004 Annual Report. The government released an Invasive Species Strategic Plan in 2012, and the Invasive Species Act was passed in November 2015.
In 2002/2003, the ECO recommended that the government develop objectives and targets for a network of protected areas in the Boreal forest. In the ECO's 2006/2007 Annual Report, the ECO pushed for: a comprehensive land use strategy for the north; a dramatic expansion of the protected areas network; and a new land use planning system with the force of law. The Far North Act, 2010, enshrined in law the mandate to preserve 50% of the Far North as park or conservation reserve, and addresses several of the ECO’s concerns.