Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights
TORONTO – Environmental health continues to be a very low priority for the ministers of this province, says the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Eva Ligeti, in her 1997 annual report, Open Doors: Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. Ligeti, who monitors compliance by provincial ministries with the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), submitted her report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly this morning.
“I regret to report that in the past year there has been little substantive improvement in the actions taken by provincial ministries toward protecting the environment,” Ligeti said at a news conference held today at Queen’s Park. Her 1997 annual report shows the results of three years of budget cuts by the provincial government, the commissioner added.
Decisions about the management of Ontario’s natural resources receive in-depth coverage in this year’s annual report, which reviews the Lands for Life planning process that will allocate lands and resources in Ontario’s central forested regions. “The Round Tables heading up Lands for Life will have to make recommendations — within a very short period of time — about an area that represents approximately 46 per cent of the land in this province,” said Ligeti. “These decisions will have long-term implications. Instead of the speed that has been imposed on Lands for Life, what is needed is a careful, thorough review, based on the best possible information, and with full and complete public scrutiny.”
Elsewhere in the report the Environmental Commissioner reviews the Ministry of Transportation decision to withdraw provincial funding from local public transportation; the new approaches ministries are taking to meet their environmental responsibilities, such as voluntary agreements and alternative service delivery systems; and initiatives by the Ministry of the Environment to improve air quality. The report also looks at the current state of environmental monitoring of Ontario’s air, water, forests and wildlife. Each section of the report carries the Environmental Commissioner’s recommendations to the provincial government for dealing with these issues.
The EBR, passed in 1993, grants Ontario residents the right to comment on proposals for acts, regulations and policies about the environment, which are posted on the Environmental Registry, an Internet bulletin board. This year’s annual report carries several accounts of how people across the province used their EBR rights to influence provincial decisions, said Ligeti, who called it an “encouraging” sign that the legislation is working the way it was intended.
“Unfortunately, the transparency and accountability inherent in the EBR are not enough to protect our environment,” Ligeti concluded. “I made a number of recommendations in this year’s annual report. They are all do-able, and they’re an excellent investment in Ontario’s future. What they require is environmental vision and commitment on the part of the province.”
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