Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights
TORONTO, April 28, 1999 – It’s time for the Ontario government to listen to the people of this province, says the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Eva Ligeti, in her 1998 Report to the Legislature. Ligeti, who monitors compliance by provincial ministries with Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), submitted her Report, Open Doors, to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly this morning.
“My 1998 Report has many examples of how people used the EBR to slow the decline of environmental health and protection in Ontario,” Ligeti said today at a news conference held at Queen’s Park. “However, the province has not used the tools it has available to achieve environmental goals. In fact, the Report documents the decline of Ontario’s capacity to protect the environment.”
As in past ECO reports, government decisions about air quality are a focus of the 1998 Report. Ontario has not kept up with other jurisdictions, said Ligeti, which have policies aimed at reducing the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. No new limits on CO2 emissions are planned when Ontario opens the electricity grid to competition, and the energy-efficiency provisions of the Ontario Building Code have been weakened. The province has also withdrawn funding for public transit and handed down land use planning responsibilities to municipalities, which may lead to still more urban sprawl. “Both of these decisions will only add to Ontario’s excessive reliance on the automobile, which is the number one source of smog-causing pollution in this province,” said Ligeti.
The Commissioner also reviewed the 1996 proposal by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to update 70 outdated air quality standards, pointing out that no new enforceable standards have been finalized in the past two years. The much-publicized Drive Clean program, according to the Commissioner, is a step in the right direction. But with the unchecked increase in the number of vehicles in Ontario, Ligeti added, Drive Clean can have only minimal effects in cutting the emissions that contribute to smog and climate change.
Elsewhere in her 1998 Report, Commissioner Ligeti calls for new “product stewardship” programs that would require manufacturers and consumers to take on more responsibility for packaging waste, which contributes significantly to litter, incinerator emissions, and air, water and soil pollution in Ontario. Currently, the Blue Box system costs municipal taxpayers $46 million more every year than it generates in revenues.
The ECO also reviewed MOE’s hazardous waste regulations in 1998, recommending that the ministry place a priority on pollution prevention rather than on pollution control — reducing the production of pollutants rather than focusing on minimizing environmental damage only after the pollutants are produced.
The EBR, passed in 1994, gives Ontario residents the right to comment on provincial proposals for Acts, regulations and policies about the environment, which are posted on the Environmental Registry, an Internet Web site. The 1998 ECO Report carries several accounts of how people across the province used their EBR rights to influence provincial decisions, Ligeti pointed out, saying that it was a good indication that the EBR is working the way it was intended.
“To achieve the full protection, conservation and restoration of the environment envisioned by the Environmental Bill of Rights, provincial ministries need to set firm environmental targets,” Commissioner Ligeti concluded, “and give Ontarians the information they need for determining whether government decisions are ensuring a healthful environment in this province.”
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