Since it came into force in 1994, Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) has played a critical role in engaging the public on environmental issues and in enabling better environmental outcomes in the province. But the EBR has become dated; over the years, many stakeholders have called for updates to the legislation, and my office has recommended some key areas of reform (view the letter that I wrote to the Honourable Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, back in June).
I was therefore pleased that, in July 2016, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) initiated a public consultation process entitled “Review of the Environmental Bill of Rights – A Provincial Dialogue.” The ministry invited Ontarians to provide feedback on selected components of the EBR set out in a discussion paper posted on the Environmental Registry (#012-8002). At the time, I blogged about the need to strengthen the EBR and the ministry’s consultation (read my blog, Reforming the Environmental Bill of Rights).
Many individuals and groups took the opportunity to submit written comments over the four-month consultation period, and the ministry has committed to analyzing that feedback as it determines next steps.
To further support the ministry’s review of the EBR, I believed that it would be helpful to get some experienced EBR users together to brainstorm opportunities for strengthening three key areas of potential EBR reform:
- Public consultation using the Environmental Registry
- Applications for Review
- Applications for Investigation
On December 7, 2016, with the support of the MOECC and an independent facilitator, I hosted a roundtable of approximately fifteen EBR practitioners representing a variety of sectors and interests, all eager to share their ideas for improving the EBR. A number of staff from the MOECC and other prescribed ministries, as well as my office, attended as observers.
What ensued was a lively discussion of the participants’ varied experiences using EBR tools, and their priorities and suggestions for EBR improvement. Here is just a sampling of the issues the participants raised and discussed:
- Timely access to information supporting proposals posted on the Registry;
- The Environmental Assessment Act exception to EBR-based public consultation;
- Expanding the application of the EBR to additional ministries, laws and instruments;
- Timelines for public consultation and EBR applications;
- The need for greater transparency in ministries’ handling of applications; and
- The current inability to seek judicial review of ministry decisions made under the
You can read the facilitator’s full summary report of the roundtable, EBR Practitioners’ Roundtable.
I am optimistic that the comments submitted through the Environmental Registry, as well as the feedback from practitioners at December’s roundtable, will help the government in its review of the EBR. There is a clear need to strengthen the EBR tools that facilitate public participation and, consequently, the delivery of better environmental outcomes in this province.
I will continue to monitor the MOECC’s progress – and hold the ministry’s feet to the fire – on EBR reform in 2017.