Serving the Public
The Transformation of the Ministry of Natural Resources
First announced in the 2012 provincial budget, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) transformation plan is the ministry’s strategy to cut costs and change how it manages our natural resources. To date, changes – many of which were made without public consultation – include: cuts to various MNR programs and staffing levels; the introduction of a “rules in regulation” approach to activities previously governed by an individual permitting or approval process; and the elimination of the Science and Information Resources Division. The ECO fears that this effort to cut up-front costs though service and oversight reductions could have costly long-term impacts that jeopardize the welfare and sustainability of Ontario’s natural resources.
Protected Areas Planning: A Lost Priority
The Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006 was amended by the 2012 omnibus budget bill to eliminate deadlines for the preparation, duration and periodic review of management direction for protected areas. Even before these changes, the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) was seriously lagging in preparing and updating these important planning documents. Each year that a protected area is without management direction increases the risk to ecological integrity, yet provincial parks wait an average of 15 years for management direction to be developed and many are decades out of date. In addition to these unacceptable delays, MNR has also rolled back its reporting obligations to a ten year cycle, reducing opportunities for assessing and communicating the state of affairs of protected areas. These changes were precipitated by MNR’s strained budget, which forces the ministry to rely on a cost recovery model to fund planning and management activities for most protected areas; this is an issue the ECO has raised in past reports and with which we continue to object, as it does not serve the best interests of Ontario.
Ontario’s Far North and the Ring of Fire
In the heart of Ontario’s Far North – one of the world’s largest intact ecosystems and an area of international ecological significance – is the “Ring of Fire,” a remote region under intense mining exploration. There is little doubt that significant mineral discoveries in the area will soon be developed into working mines. In 2010, Ontario enacted the Far North Act, 2010, which set out a land use planning process for the region. However, proposals for major regional infrastructure are now being considered prior to completion of the land use plans described by the Act. Before moving ahead with approvals for multiple mines and supporting infrastructure in the Ring of Fire, the government should comprehend the potential environmental effects on local ecological systems, as well as across the entire Far North. Specifically, the ECO recommends that the government commit to long-term environmental monitoring for the Far North and establish a strategic environmental review and permitting process for the Ring of Fire that expressly addresses cumulative impacts.
Stopping the Spread of Invasive Species
Invasive species – non-native plants, animals and micro-organisms introduced into Ontario – can cause significant damage to our natural environment, economy and society. After nearly a decade of encouragement from the ECO, in July 2012, the government released the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan, which sets out Ontario’s plan for: combating invasive species arrival and settlement; reversing the spread of existing invaders; and reducing the harmful impacts of invasive species. The ECO applauds the involved ministries for collaborating on this strategy, but is troubled by a lack of specificity about the actions, responsibilities, timelines and funding mechanisms required to effectively combat the impacts of invasive species in Ontario.
Safe Disposal of Pharmaceuticals and Sharps
The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) introduced a new regulation in September 2012 focusing on the end-of-life management of pharmaceuticals and sharps, such as needles and syringes. Its dual purpose is to make producers responsible for managing the wastes resulting from their products, and to ensure that consumers have access to convenient locations to return waste pharmaceuticals and sharps. While pleased that MOE is finally moving forward on producer responsibility for waste diversion, the ECO is concerned that a lack of collection targets and compliance enforcement could hinder the success of this regulation in ensuring the safe disposal of these hazardous materials.
Air Emissions from an Asphalt Blending Facility
In August 2012, an application was submitted under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR) requesting an investigation into an alleged violation of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) by an asphalt blending facility accused of illegally emitting particulate matter into the air without the required Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA). The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) conducted an investigation and determined that the facility was in violation of the EPA. Shortly thereafter, an ECA was issued and the operations were brought into compliance with the EPA. Although the ECO is pleased that MOE took action and believes this is an example of the importance of the application for investigation provisions of the EBR, it is disheartening that it fell to the applicants to bring attention to this matter given that MOE had been aware of the violation for several months.