Losing Touch / Losing Our Touch
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released Part 1 of his 2011/2012 Annual Report to the Legislature on September 19th, 2012.
Ministries Playing Games with the Environmental Bill of Rights
Toronto, September 19, 2012 – Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner says officials in the provincial government are defying the will of the Legislature and ignoring the public’s right to be involved in the development of environmental policy.
In Part 1 of his 2011/2012 Annual Report released today, Gord Miller highlighted the government’s obligations under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, also known as the EBR. “The EBR is one of the most significant environmental laws of our time,” says Miller. “It gives Ontarians a toolkit they can use to make sure Ontario ministries are listening to their concerns and protecting their right to a healthy environment. But a number of ministries are frustrating the public’s right to know and be involved in environmental protection.”
Miller says a key tool in the EBR toolkit is the Environmental Registry (www.ebr.gov.on.ca). Ministries that are covered by the EBR are required to post any environmentally significant proposals on this searchable on-line database. The posting of a proposal notice guarantees the public at least 30 days to comment on the proposed government initiatives, notification of the decision, and an explanation of how their comments were considered in the final decision.
Miller says a number of ministries are ignoring the requirements of the EBR and proceeding with far-reaching environmental plans, policies and programs without properly notifying and consulting the public.
The Ministry of Energy didn’t post a full proposal notice on the Environmental Registry when it announced its review of the Feed-in Tariff program for renewable energy. Instead, it only posted an “information notice”, which does not give the public the right to have their comments considered, or the right to see how their comments were reflected in the final decision.
The Ministry of Natural Resources didn’t notify and consult the public on its strategic policy document, Our Sustainable Future: A Call to Action, even though it gives overall direction for all of the ministry’s core activities and programs for years to come.
The report singles out the Ministry of Natural Resources for special criticism. “Over the past few years, it has increasingly evaded its obligations under the EBR. I think the Ministry of Natural Resources should be classified as a ‘chronic offender’ for its repeated refusal to post important proposals on the Environmental Registry. The Legislature should be offended by the ministry’s conduct.”
Miller says the flouting of the public’s rights extends beyond the refusal to use the Environmental Registry. Some important ministries still aren’t “prescribed” or covered by the Environmental Bill of Rights. For example, the Ministry of Infrastructure, which is in charge of legislation with clear environmental impacts like the Places to Grow Act, is still not prescribed.
Other ministries already subject to the EBR systematically deny every application from the public for a policy review or an investigation of suspected illegal activity. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing have in fact denied every application they have received since the Legislature gave the public these rights 18 years ago; the Ministry of Natural Resources has denied every application in the last five years.
Moreover, four years after the Ontario Divisional Court ruled that ministries must consider their Statements of Environmental Values (SEVs) when making decisions on all instruments (e.g., permits, approvals, licences) that are prescribed under the EBR, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment still are not fully complying with this important requirement under the EBR.
“I am astounded by the level of disregard and contempt being shown to the statutory requirements of the Environmental Bill of Rights,” says the Environmental Commissioner. “Senior members of the Ontario Public Service are ignoring their responsibility to support and implement the will of the Legislative Assembly.”
For more information, contact:
Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
416-325-3371 / 416-819-1673 1-800-701-6454
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The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released Part 2 of his 2011/2012 Annual Report to the Legislature on October 2nd, 2012.
Birds and Bats Need More Protection from Wind Power
The benefits of wind power are substantial. Although the impact of wind turbines on birds and bats is minimal, relatively speaking, these risks can be further reduced by strategically locating the turbines away from sensitive locations. The ECO is pleased that the Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) recently released guidelines give special consideration to the potential negative effects of wind turbines on birds, bats and their habitats. However, the ECO is troubled by the gaps in these guidelines that leave some birds and bats vulnerable. Read more in Section 3.2 of the report.
Ontario Needs to Better Prepare for Increased Dry Spells and Droughts
Ontario is not immune to the threat of drought. Severe low water conditions can cause significant social and economic stress for farmers, businesses and residents, as well as affect aquatic ecosystems. Following a dry summer, the Ministry of Natural Resources published an updated Ontario Low Water Response Plan to improve the province’s low water response process. While these amendments made modest improvements, the ECO is concerned that the heavy reliance on voluntary measures and the prohibitive hurdles to obtain a Level III declaration (highest drought alert level) both remain. Moreover, the ECO found that while some aspects of MOE’s permit to take water (PTTW) process have improved, the ministry continues to fail to deliver on numerous core commitments including having regard to ecosystem needs and cumulative impacts in decision making, and promoting water conservation and transparency in the PTTW issuing system. Read more in Section 4.1 and 4.2 of the ECO’s 2011/2012 Annual Report.
Government has “Nothing To Report” from Required Wildlife Monitoring Program after 18 Years
Commercial timber harvesting occurs on over 270,000 square kilometres of publicly-owned Crown forests. The Provincial Wildlife Population Monitoring Program was established to monitor the status of forest wildlife populations, in order to inform Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) forestry policy. The ECO concludes that MNR’s wildlife monitoring program is in a state of abject failure: no consistent list of species has been monitored, and very limited long-term trend information has been collected. After 18 years, the program has failed to achieve its objectives – MNR still has nothing to report. Read more in Section 2.6 of the ECO’s 2011/2012 Annual Report.
A Terrible Waste – the Environmental Costs of Throwing Our Food Away
We may feel guilty for social and economic reasons when we throw away uneaten food. But very few of us consider the environmental costs of tossing that bruised banana. Statistics Canada estimated that, in 2007, Canadians wasted the equivalent of 183 kilograms of food per person. Another study estimated that 40 per cent of food produced in Canada each year – valued at a staggering $27 billion – is not consumed. As a result, valuable resources that went into the production, packaging, transportation and storage of disposed food have been squandered. The ECO believes the province has a role to play in providing consumers with the knowledge, tools and incentives to reduce food waste. Read more in Section 7.1 of the ECO’s 2011/2012 Annual Report.
The Province’s Forgotten Fauna: Marine Mammals in Ontario
Some Ontarians may be surprised to learn that Ontario has more than a thousand kilometres of marine coastline. The shores of Hudson Bay and James Bay host a variety of marine mammals, including polar bears, seals, walruses and whales. Though living far from the public eye, these animals comprise an important part of Ontario’s biodiversity. Unfortunately, these marine mammals face numerous threats, including a warming climate. Ontario has a responsibility to safeguard these mammals by addressing threats under its control including habitat loss and hunting. Read more in Section 2.9 of the ECO’s 2011/2012 Annual Report.
Protecting Algonquin’s Brook Trout from Commercial Timber Harvesting
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a freshwater fish native to Ontario. Algonquin Provincial Park holds the highest concentration of natural brook trout lakes in the world. In 2011, two applicants requested that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) review Algonquin Park’s forest management policies, asserting the need for more stringent rules for commercial timber harvesting in the park. The ECO strongly urges MNR to undertake a comprehensive public review of its policy to allow logging in Algonquin – the only protected area in Ontario that permits commercial timber harvesting. In addition, the ministry needs to evaluate the effects of forestry and aggregate extraction practices on the park’s brook trout populations. Read more in Section 2.7 of the ECO’s 2011/2012 Annual Report.