Under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), you have the right to know about – and comment on – environmentally significant proposals the Ontario government is considering.
To help you exercise this right, the government posts environmentally significant proposals on the online Environmental Registry for you to read and comment on.
Be aware that only certain ministries are prescribed under the EBR and required to post environmentally significant proposals on the Registry.
Ontarians’ comments submitted through the Environmental Registry have helped inform and improve many government decisions, including:
- Plans for provincial parks
- Regulations for managing waste
- The Mining Act
- Guidelines for transit planning
- Numerous water-taking permits
Each proposal notice on the Environmental Registry summarizes what the government is proposing, tells you how you can comment, tells you how long the comment period is (minimum 30 days), provides links to additional information and tells you where to send your comments (see an example of a proposal notice)
To find proposals on the Environmental Registry, you can browse the Environmental Registry, follow our Registry Twitter account (@EBR_EnvRegistry), or sign up to receive email alerts when a notice that fits your key words is posted on the Registry.
Note that making a comment on the Environmental Registry is not a way of casting a “vote.” Ministries consider the content of each individual comment—not the number of comments for or against a proposal— and are not obliged to change their decisions to address concerns raised.
After the ministry reviews all submitted comments, it posts its decision on the Environmental Registry (see an example of a decision notice), briefly explaining how public comments influenced its decision. If you disagree with the ministry’s decision on a permit, approval or other “instrument”, you may be able to appeal it.
The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) gives you a way to help shape environmentally significant policies, acts, regulations and instruments to protect the environment. You have the right to receive notice of and comment on the Ontario government’s environmentally significant proposals—right from the start.
1. A ministry posts a proposal on the Environmental Registry
Each prescribed ministry posts its proposals for new or updated environmentally significant policies, acts, regulations and instruments on the Environmental Registry.
You can find proposals of interest to you by regularly searching the Registry (you can use the “My EBR” function to help keep track), or you may hear about them from local environmental groups or through the media. You can also sign up for the Environmental Commissioner’s Environmental Registry Alerts, to get email alerts about notices on the Environmental Registry that may interest you – as they are posted. The ECO also has a Twitter account (@EBR_EnvRegistry), where we post selected proposal notices that may be of interest to you.
“Proposal notices” must provide a minimum of 30 days for the public to submit comments.
The proposal notice summarizes the proposal and tells you how you can participate, the deadline by which you must submit your comments, where to send them, and where you can get additional information.
Many proposal notices also include links to relevant information such as copies of draft policies, legislation, regulations or instruments, or ministry web pages or documents that contain additional information on the subject matter in question.
2. Prepare your comments
If you decide to comment on a proposal on the Environmental Registry, put your comments in writing. Before submitting your comments, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have all the information I need? Written material on the proposal can be reviewed at a ministry office. In some cases, the ministry contact person identified in the proposal notice may be able to provide more information.
- Is my submission clear and thorough?
- Do I have any facts or evidence relevant to the proposal that the ministry may not yet know? If so, have I explained them clearly, or attached them?
3. Send your comments to the ministry
Submit your comments to the ministry within the time frame in the notice (usually at least 30 days). There are several ways to submit your comments:
- Online: All regular proposal notices on the Environmental Registry include a function for submitting your comments online. When you click on the “Submit Comment” button, you will be taken to a comments page where you can paste or type your comments and submit them directly to the ministry.
- Email: Comments and attachments can be emailed directly to the contact person identified in the proposal notice (look up government email addresses on the Government of Ontario Employee and Organization Directory).
- Mail or fax: You can mail or fax a paper copy of your comments to the ministry contact person identified in the proposal notice.
Regardless of how you submit your comments, your submission (not including any personal information) will become part of the public record. Comments that are submitted online are usually publicly accessible online once a decision notice is posted.
If you submit your comments online, you should not include any personal information in the comment box.
Under the EBR, the ministry must consider all public comments in the course of making its decision on the proposal.
Commenting on the Environmental Registry is Not a Vote
Making a comment on the Environmental Registry is not a way of casting a binding “vote.” The number of comments in support of, or opposed to, a proposal doesn't determine what the ministry decides. Under the EBR, ministries must consider the content of all comments—but then the ministries make the decision that they consider is best for Ontario.
Form letters and postcards may be a useful way of communicating to a ministry both a collective view of and a heightened public interest in a particular proposal. The fact that a substantial number of comments are submitted expressing the same concerns may be given weight in a ministry’s decision-making process. However, one carefully crafted comment providing original insight, observations and recommendations could influence a ministry’s decision more than a thousand form letters.
4. A decision is posted by a ministry on the Environmental Registry
Once the ministry has made a decision on the proposal, the ministry must post a “decision notice” on the Environmental Registry that describes the ministry’s decision. The decision notice will indicate the number of comments received on the proposal, and provide access to comments that were submitted online. The decision notice should also include a brief explanation of the effect that the public’s participation had, if any, on the ministry’s decision.
Since the minister does not have to make a decision on a particular proposal within a set time frame, a decision notice may be posted months or years after the proposal. The ECO encourages ministries to post decision notices promptly, and has asked ministries to post updates for notices that are still proposals more than two years after being posted.
Use our Environmental Registry Alert feature to track decisions you are interested in.
5. Find out how your comments were considered
You will not receive a formal response to your comments from the ministry. However, you can review the decision notice to see how your comments were considered. The ECO reviews ministry decisions to evaluate how the ministry took the public’s comments into account, and reports annually on whether ministries have complied with the requirements of the EBR.
Enhanced Public Participation
Under the EBR, ministries are required to provide a minimum level of public participation in environmentally significant proposals (i.e., posting a proposal notice on the Environmental Registry and providing a minimum 30-day comment period). But for some permits and licences that ministries grant (i.e., Class II instruments, which have a higher level of risk and potential threat to the environment), the EBR requires that ministries provide additional notice as well. Additional notice may include any one or more of: news releases; ads in local newspapers; door-to-door flyers; signs; or other methods.
For Class II proposals, ministers are also required to consider providing more than 30 days for the public to comment, as well as enhanced public participation opportunities. Enhanced public participation opportunities could include: the chance to speak directly to ministry decision-makers; public meetings; mediation; or any other process that would facilitate more informed public participation.
Keep in mind that ministries can always choose to provide for additional notice, longer comment periods and enhanced public participation on any proposal posted on the Environmental Registry. Whether a ministry decides to do so is always at the discretion of the ministry decision makers. If you have a good reason why extra time or enhanced participation should occur for a specific proposal, write to the ministry contact person identified in the proposal notice and explain what you are seeking, and why.
If you wish to request enhanced public participation measures on a proposal, write to the ministry contact person outlining the types of enhanced public participation measures you are seeking. If possible, send a copy of your request to the ECO at firstname.lastname@example.org. The ministry will likely respond to your request with a letter, and in some cases, may repost the proposal with enhanced public participation measures. The ECO reviews how these requests are handled by ministries.
The MNRF Rejects its Own Proposal to Kill More Wolves
In January 2016, the MNRF proposed to reduce restrictions on wolf and coyote hunting, ostensibly to “address concerns in recent years about the impacts of wolf predation on moose in northern Ontario,” among other reasons. This proposal sparked an overwhelming public reaction. After receiving more than 12,000 comments on the Environmental Registry, and several petitions with over 200,000 signatures combined, the MNRF announced that it had decided not to proceed with the proposal. The public opposition was well founded – killing predators can have serious ecological consequences and is not likely to help moose.
Improvements to the Requirements for Source Protection Plans
When the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change consulted the public on proposed requirements for source protection plans under the Clean Water Act, 2006, 86 members of the public—including municipalities, conservation authorities, First Nations, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry, private individuals and others—submitted comments. The ministry made numerous changes to the draft regulation as a result of the public’s input, including: clarifying the text of certain provisions; broadening the scope of policies that source protection committees may include in source protection plans; and enhancing provisions for consultation with First Nations communities.