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Ontario’s environmental rules: “foibles, fumbles and retreats”

In his latest pronouncements on the state of Ontario's environment, the province's Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller spared few words in saying that he believes the ministries responsible are not performing up to par.


In his latest pronouncements on the state of Ontario’s environment, the province’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller spared few words in saying that he believes the ministries responsible are not performing up to par.

In introducing Part 2 of his 2011/2012 Annual Report to the legislature on October 2, Miller writes: “There are some positive developments to report…. We have some improvements in fisheries management and MNR has even discovered in Algonquin Park a surviving population of a species of fish thought extinct. Fire management in parks has a better plan. With some caveats I acknowledge that there are somewhat better wind turbine rules to protect birds and bats and the MTO’s new transit-supportive planning guidelines are an improvement. However, after those points are listed my ability to praise government accomplishments in the environmental field gets a bit limited.

“In this reporting period we saw no bold new legislation to tackle the challenges of our time. The business of government went on a more modest scale but it could hardly be said to go well. This report is full of examples of stumbles and retreats in the implementation of programs and initiatives that were seemingly well conceived and used to work acceptably. In Part 1 of this Report … I documented the failures of various ministries to meet their statutory process obligations under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993. And, here in Part 2, I report to the Legislature on the strange changes to the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, … Neither do I understand how MNR can completely fail to implement something as critical as the Provincial Wildlife Monitoring Program. Or, similarly, I question how the Ministry of the Environment can confirm to people they are being adversely affected by industrial dust emissions and then allow the problem to persist for years….

“The business of protecting our environment and natural resources used to be a much more routine process that largely ran smoothly. I don’t know why even seemingly simple policy and program delivery has so many associated problems. I have identified the lack of resource capacity in key ministries in the past as at least part of the problem, but the current foibles, fumbles and retreats point to problems beyond capacity constraints. Perhaps we are just losing our touch.”

Miller is particularly concerned about the province’s approach to coping with drought and low water levels. He says that it isn’t enough to rely on voluntary efforts by municipalities, industry and farmers to reduce their water withdrawals during low water conditions. Timing is critical for regions to be able to cope with droughts, so he is concerned the province is not going to respond quickly enough when we are next short of rain in Ontario. With climate change, Miller adds, those severe weather events are going to occur more frequently so the government needs to “fix this program quickly.”