Intervenor: Volume 24 No.1 January - March 1999

Guide to Environmental Deregulation in Ontario - Updated Chronology

Chronology originally published in Intervenor, Vol. 22, no. 5&6, Sept-Dec, 1997 (original only available in print).

Introduction
In the September-December, 1997 issue of the Intervenor, we published a chronological guide to the many changes made by the Harris government to Ontario’s environmental protection regime. The list is reproduced here with notes [in italics and square brackets] inserted to update the earlier information. The list has also been brought up to date.

Since taking office in June of 1995, Ontario’s government has racked up an impressive list of actions to dismantle the environmental safety net. Moving very quickly and with very little consultation the government has dismantled 30 years worth of safeguards to protect the environment and conserve natural resources.

Repeated public opinion polls indicate little or no support for this environmental deregulation and natural resource privatization.

Most of these changes were made or initiated during the government’s first year and a half in office when public and media attention was largely focused on massive cuts in social programs, the brutal effects of which are still being felt by Ontario’s most vulnerable people.

Although the following list looks long, it is only a selected list of changes. 

July to December, 1995

  • Cut in funding for agricultural land trust to protect Niagara Fruit Belt from urban development.
    [Correction: Funding cut was to the Tender Fruit Land Program which was not a land trust. For more information see guest article by Gracia Janes of the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, Intervenor, v.23, no.2, p.7.]
  • Repeal of ban on municipal solid waste incinerators; municipalities are now able to consider incinerators as waste disposal option.
  • Cut in support for hazardous waste reduction, conservation programs, blue box recycling, and promotion of green industries.
  • Large cuts to public transit; but over $100 million provided for highway projects in Hamilton and Ottawa.
    [Provincial money for the Redhill Expressway is conditional on the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth paying the balance of the cost. The expressway has yet to be approved and is currently undergoing environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.]
  • Termination of the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy, the Advisory Committee on Environmental Standards, the Environmental Assessment Advisory Committee, and the Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement Advisory Committee, effectively cutting off four important avenues of public and impartial expert involvement in decision-making on environmental public policy.
  • First round of cuts to Ministries of Environment and Energy, Natural Resources, Northern Development and Mines, and Transportation. Large cuts to environmental research grants, monitoring, testing, standards development and enforcement, forest management programs, conservation authority transfer payments (70% cut), Niagara Escarpment Commission (50% of staff cut).
  • Quietly — and without the required posting to the Environmental Registry — passage of a regulation exempting Ministry of Finance for 10 months from Environmental Bill of Rightspublic notice and comment requirements; Environmental Commissioner Eva Ligeti files special report in the Legislature condemning the move.
  • Minister of Natural Resources opposes federal time-line for phase-out of lead in shot for water fowl hunting.
  • Unsuccessful attempt to illegally remove environmental and labour representatives from Ontario Hydro Board of Directors.  

January to June, 1996

  • Passage of Bill 26 (the Omnibus Bill) which amends 44 statutes including seven with environmental and/or public interest implications. Many changes involve replacing legal obligations with regulatory requirements to be decided at the discretion of the minister responsible. The Bill begins the process of privatizing Ontario’s public resources (minerals, forests, public recreational lands, fish and wildlife, and water) and serves to promote resource use and extraction by eliminating government monitoring and regulation and moving to industry self-regulation. In the case of mining, the Bill reduces private sector financial obligations to ensure clean-up, rehabilitation and long term care creating prospect of huge public liability from future abandoned mines. The Bill creates new powers to dissolve Conservation Authorities and provides option to sell 50 years worth of land protection that occurred on the expectation of permanent protection. Removes Public Utilities Act requirement to hold a referendum on the sale of a public utility. Changes to Freedom of Information legislation create new financial and administrative barriers for public access to government information.
    [Mining Act provisions not in force until implementing regulations prepared - not yet available as of May 1999.]
  • Passage of Bill 20, the new government’s revisions to the Planning Act, and related Provincial Policy Statement. New land use planning rules repeal over four years worth of consensus building and implement the exclusive agenda of the development industry. Gone or severely weakened are numerous legal and policy tools to curb both the environmental and economic excesses of urban sprawl and to protect natural heritage.
  • Consultation paper proposes elimination of key energy efficiency requirements from the Building Code.
    [In response to public interest group pressure, the government backtracked slightly on these proposals but overall, energy efficiency provisions were still weakened.]
  • Intervenor Funding Project Act, which allowed citizen and public interest access to justice and environmental decisions, is allowed to expire with no replacement.
  • More cuts to Ministries of Environment and Energy and Natural Resources including $9.1 million in parks funding and 900 MNR positions including Foresters, Biologists, and Fishery Technicians in northern communities.
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA), faced with staff layoffs, moves toward industry self-regulation and terminates inspections that ensure accurate country-of-origin labelling and inspection of Ontario grown fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues (one such inspection found lettuce from southwestern Ontario with 400 times the accepted level of pesticides).  

Summer of 1996

  • In less than three months, the government holds farcical "consultations" on a huge array of changes to the Aggregate Resources Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, plus: provincial landfill standards, the development control requirements on over 75% of aggregate companies operating on the Niagara Escarpment, and every regulation (over 80 in total) administered by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MoEE). Proposed revisions to regulations would weaken environmental protection in diverse areas including air and water pollution, pesticides, hazardous wastes, etc.
  • Taro Aggregates Ltd. given approval without a public hearing for landfill site in Stoney Creek despite extensive public controversy and numerous calls for a public hearing under the Environmental Assessment Act.
  • Adoption of Temagami land-use strategy which ignores much of the results of years of community consultation, permits logging of 35% of old-growth forests and lifts a 24-year old land caution leading to massive mineral exploration activity (over 617,000 hectares and close to 600 prospectors).
  • Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) reveals Fish and Wildlife Management Business Plan spelling out the details of transferring fish and wildlife management to a new Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board (dominated by anglers and hunters) and the cutting of field assessment programs for scientific work, fisheries and Great Lakes assessment.  

September to December, 1996

  • Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMA&H) releases more details on proposed Building Code amendments to remove important energy conservation requirements for new homes.
    [As noted above, government eventually decided against removal of some requirements, but overall, provisions for energy efficiency were weakened.]
  • Public complaints lead to a 30-day extension for consultation on proposals to change the entire regulatory regime of MoEE.
  • CELA successfully appeals the government’s refusal to release background information on MoEE regulatory changes — 600 pages of materials are released revealing frequent disagreement by Ministry staff with government and industry recommendations in favour of weakening or removing regulations.
  • Environmental Commissioner Eva Ligeti makes a special report to the Legislature criticizing environmental deregulation and lack of adequate public consultation.
  • Provincial Auditor’s annual report criticizes MoEE for inadequate tracking of hazardous waste, antiquated air pollution controls, and deficient monitoring of groundwater resources.
  • MMA&H modifies the Peel Region Official Plan approval application by freezing huge areas of land for aggregate extraction, contributing to over 100 appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board including by the Region of Peel itself.
  • MNR adopts regulations to implement Bill 26 (the Omnibus Bill) provisions to deregulate mineral exploration and facilitate the deregulation and privatization of forest management and fish and wildlife management.
  • MoEE reports on Ontario’s progress and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the combination of which will not achieve the year 2000 target of stabilization at 1990 emission levels.
  • MoEE blasted over leaked documents outlining plans to selectively consult with polluters over how much pollution should be allowed in revised regulations. This likely amounts to a violation of the spirit and perhaps the letter of the law providing public rights of notice and comment under the Environmental Bill of Rights.
  • CELA sues the MNR for failing to meet its Environmental Bill of Rights duties. Ministry conduct deprives the public of its rights nd remedies under this law. Lawsuit dropped in March of 1997 (see below). 

January to June, 1997

  • Proclamation of Bill 76, the revised Environmental Assessment Act, which provides for new strict time frames throughout the process and increased Ministerial discretion over whether, when and how the Act will apply. Combined with the elimination of intervenor funding, the changes will serve to limit public involvement in Ontario’s most important environmental planning and approvals process.
  • Ministry of Transportation announces $718 million cut in public transportation spending as well as the downloading of transportation responsibilities to municipalities. The effect will be greater dependence on the automobile, more greenhouse gas emissions, and increased demand for more roads.
  • Memo leaked from MoEE states that lay-offs expose Ministry to lawsuits arising from regulatory negligence for non-enforcement of environmental laws.
  • MoEE eliminates funding for Great Lakes clean-up, violating a 1994 agreement with the federal government which pledged to eliminate 60% of pollution in 16 "hot spot" sites and to rehabilitate eight of these sites.
  • Report of Red Tape Commission ("Cutting the Red Tape Barriers to Jobs and Better Government") proposes continuation of environmental deregulation. "Red Tape" bills introduced for numerous ministries with sweeping changes proposed for the MoEE and MNR.
    [Bill 25, Red Tape Reduction Acteventually passed - see notes below, December 1998]
  • MoEE terminates State of the Environment reporting.
  • MoEE proposes new standards for hazardous contaminants in air pollution that excludes benzene (a known carcinogen) despite Ministry monitoring of elevated levels in Sault Ste. Marie and Hamilton. Toughness of some standards undermined by the fact that the proposal is only for new and not existing industries.
    [Additional proposals for more standards made subsequently in 1998 and 1999; some weaker than earlier proposals. All standards still proposed; nothing yet finalized and remains unclear whether new standards will apply to existing industries.]
  • Province extends the land transfer tax refund (up to $1,725) for first time buyers of newly built homes; subsidizing continued urban sprawl.
  • Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Eva Ligeti’s annual report on Ontario government’s environmental performance outlines the extensive details of cutbacks and deregulation via closed-door decision-making, omnibus-style legislation and an overall, "alarming lack of vision".
  • With no public consultation or notice, responsibility for the Niagara Escarpment Commission transferred from MoEE to MNR. The MNR has responsibility for resource extraction and has long favoured expanded aggregate extraction in the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area. (The Niagara Escarpment has been designated by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Reserve, one of only six in Canada).
  • MoEE charges the MNR for contravention of the Environmental Assessment Actby allowing the construction of a road to Cross Lake in the Temagami region (MNR convicted and fined in December, 1997).
  • In response to a December, 1996 CELA lawsuit, MNR barely satisfies its legal duty under the Environmental Bill of Rights with proposed "Instrument Classification Regulation". The proposal is deeply flawed and includes several serious errors in statutory interpretation. Effect of long delay in meeting these legal obligations is to frustrate and/or undermine public rights under the Environmental Bill of Rights. Revisions of the MNR proposal are in progress and, as of December 1997, it is out for second round of consultation; however, the deficiencies of the first proposal are largely not addressed.
    [Three years later, an MNR Instrument Classification Regulation has still not been passed.]
  • Minister of Natural Resources signs "perpetual agreement" between the Province and Ducks Unlimited Canada to assign permanent management of public resources by the private sector (the agreement is extensive, including the respective roles and responsibilities of each party regarding wetland policy and management, the use of Crown lands, private land stewardship, communications, environmental review, science transfer, resource planning, information management and administration).
  • Passage of Bill 57, the Environmental Approvals Improvement Act, amends the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act. Gives broad powers to Minister to exempt matters from these Acts regardless of environmental significance and purports to prohibit legal action against the Crown by anyone adversely affected by those same exempted activities. Dissolves the Environmental Compensation Corporation removing a cost-effective agency that assisted the public in understanding their rights and obligations with respect to spills of pollutants. Dissolves the Ontario Waste Management Corporation without providing for any new powers to regulate the reduction, reuse and recycling of hazardous wastes.
  • Passage of Bill 107, The Water and Sewage Services Improvement Act. Divests Province of control of any water and sewage plants by downloading to municipalities and lays out Provincial rules for privatization of any water and sewage utilities. Combined with elimination of Provincial funding for these municipal water and sewage utilities, puts the financial squeeze (and the political heat) on municipalities to sell these public assets. Opinion polls show high support (more than 75% of respondents) for non-profit, public control of water.
  • Passage of Bill 52 amending the Aggregate Resources Act and adoption of related "standards" (of uncertain status, and very easily amended since they are not passed as regulations under the Act). The Act implements self-monitoring and self-regulation of the aggregates industry, and establishes an "honour" system — industry fills out vague answers to checklist-style monitoring forms to be reviewed by MNR. After staffing cuts, there are only 17 inspectors to deal with over 3,000 licensed pits and quarries, all new licence applications, hearings before the Niagara Escarpment Commission and the Ontario Municipal Board, and to continue ongoing investigations and inquiries. Bill 52 allows industry self-monitoring by potentially unqualified industry staff. Industry staff are not required to declare the accuracy of their information, and it is not an offence to submit false information. The new regime denies adequate public access to information, as well as opportunity for notice and comment. For example, the Minister now has the discretion to refuse public hearings. Key sections are not cross-referenced to the Provincial Policy Statement under the Planning Act, such as the definition of "significant" and related natural heritage terms. There are insufficient safeguards (and reporting requirements) for natural heritage features, areas and functions, and groundwater protection.
  • The Ontario Ombudsman’s annual report raises concerns about the Ontario government’s delegation of decision-making authority to private sector bodies and the promotion of industry self-regulation.
  • The Minister of Natural Resources appoints seven Niagara Escarpment Commissioners including individuals who have, in past, called for abolition of the Niagara Escarpment Plan and removal of the United Nations designation of the escarpment as a World Biosphere Reserve. (A racist comment by one of the Minister’s appointees resulted in his forced resignation in December 1997.)
  • MNR proposes and adopts a deeply flawed Wilderness Policy which violates the Ministry’s long overdue legal obligations to develop a policy for roadless wilderness areas stipulated in Condition 106 of the Environmental Assessment Board decision regarding the Class Environmental Assessment on Timber Management. The MNR is subsequently criticized (July, 1997) by MoEE Environmental Assessment officials for not meeting the Environmental Assessment Board condition; the MNR has yet to address the MoEE concerns.
    [In her 1997 and 1998 annual reports Ontario's Environmental Commissioner criticized the MNR for not meeting its obligation to establish an adequate roadless wilderness policy. To date, the MNR has not adequately addressed this matter.]
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) introduces "right to farm" legislation which serves to broadly immunize farmers from "nuisance" lawsuits. The legislation, if implemented, will serve the interests of large agribusinesses, many of which are attempting to locate massive pig farming operations in rural Ontario. The Bill would complicate, and increase the costs of, the public’s ability to bring legal action against such operations (eg, for surface and groundwater contamination).
    [Bill eventually passed in May of 1998, with no amendments to respond to public interest group concerns. Massive pig farming operations subsequently proposed in several communities across Ontario. Concerns expressed by local people that these operations divide communities, pollute the environment, and force smaller farmers out of business.]
     

Summer of 1997

  • Massive fire at a plastics warehouse in Hamilton burns primarily polyvinyl chloride and therefore likely releases a massive amount of dioxin into the air of the surrounding community. The MoEE criticized for its failure to respond effectively. Repeated calls for a public inquiry are refused by the government.
  • Political meltdown at Ontario Hydro. Environmental Bill of Rights request for investigation alleging that Ontario Hydro officials knowingly reported incomplete environmental data to the MoEE regarding the discharge of more than 1,800 tonnes of copper and zinc into Lake Ontario from Pickering Nuclear Station; Ontario Hydro admits that it failed to report tritium contamination of groundwater at the Pickering site for the last 20 years. An independent safety review reveals astonishing array of serious safety problems in Ontario reactors — seven unsafe reactors are shut down to enable staff to focus on safety concerns at remaining 12 operating reactors.
  • Ontario Hydro proposes a $22 billion, ten year "nuclear recovery plan" that includes interim use of coal-fired electricity generation which will create large increases in toxic air emissions, smog and greenhouse gas emissions that will break numerous prior commitments to control these emissions.
  • The Ontario government establishes the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Nuclear Affairs (report due in December 1997). The Province is not contemplating regulatory action on increased air emissions and is not expected to oppose the "nuclear recovery plan".
    [Government eventually supports Ontario Hydro’s $22 billion "nuclear asset optimization plan". No regulatory action taken on increased air pollution.]
  • MoEE posts second draft of a regulation governing timelines to guide the Environmental Assessment (EA) process. Opportunities for public input will be minimal and/or inadequate for critical points in the EA process especially when facing complex, novel or large-scale undertakings. [The regulation was passed in December of 1998 with no substantial changes made in response to public interest concerns.]
  • Province proposes transfer of Septic Standards Enforcement from the Environmental Protection Act (administered by the MoEE) to the Building Code (administered by the MMA&H). The proposal would download responsibility to municipal building inspectors and replace the Environmental Appeal Board with the Building Code Commission for resolution of disputes. Yet-to-be-written regulations would provide quality control over the new inspection and enforcement regime. Removal of public health and environmental expertise throughout the septic approvals process will be combined with a general weakening of land use planning controls. No apparent coordination, yet, with the Ministry of Environment’s groundwater protection strategy. The new rules do not adequately apply to over 1 million existing septic systems.
    [Overall revamping of system of regulations, related training and certification requirements, and educational efforts were a necessary set of reforms. Problems with the transfer from public health departments to building inspectors include loss of continuity of records and lack of expertise. In some cases, transfer to Building Code is not necessarily also translating into shift away from local public health departments. However, where shift has occurred, some municipal building departments are apparently increasing approvals of septic holding tanks and small lot development both of which will lead to groundwater contamination. In addition, the new system places a significant onus on private property owners (dependant upon educational, not regulatory, efforts of the Ministry) to resolve malfunctioning or failed systems.]
  • Ontario cited as the third worst polluter in North America by the tri-national Commission on Environmental Cooperation established under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
  • MoEE proposes minimal changes to its "Compliance Guideline" regarding liability for contaminated land. Proposals serve to retain a self-serving status quo of avoiding public expense (for clean-up or administrative staff to deal with issues arising from contaminated lands) while perpetuating an approach that is at odds with well accepted theories of liability and equitable notions of fairness. Unlike other jurisdictions, Ontario continues to avoid the necessary comprehensive policy approach to related issues of allocation of liability, clean-up standards and prevention of future contamination. Proposed guidelines will continue to inhibit "brownfields" redevelopment, thus encouraging more suburban sprawl. 

September to December, 1997

  • MNR, flouting public consultation requirements, decides to abruptly withdraw from the administration and enforcement of section 35 of the (federal) Fisheries Act. Motivation appears to be political gamesmanship. Result is a jurisdictional vacuum and the abeyance of a crucial environmental statute that protects fish habitat, especially regarding the activities of land developers and aggregate industries in the south, and mining and forestry on Crown land in the north.
    [Fisheries Act function downloaded, in the south, in many cases, to Conservation Authorities who have limited resources to do the job.]
  • MNR holds public meetings on "Lands for Life", a planning exercise to determine land uses on public lands into perpetuity. While apparently recognizing the value of, and need for, a comprehensive land use planning process for Crown lands and making laudable commitments to complete the Province’s system of parks and protected areas, no quantifiable protected areas objectives or targets are yet proposed. Moreover, other MNR activities undermine confidence in legitimacy of this planning process: "Lands for Life" exercise is separate from MNR discussions with the forest industry to
    1) allocate up to 60% of the non-protected public lands for "intensive forestry" and
    2) renegotiate forest tenure to significantly strengthen timber companies’ interests in resources allocated to them. Proposed tenure reforms may hand over long-term proprietary interests in public lands including the possibility of requiring compensation to timber companies if lands are withdrawn from tenure arrangements by the Province.
    [The Forest Accord, negotiated in early 1999 (see Jan.-May 1999) did not set targets for protected areas, but it gave the forest industry everything they were seeking during prior negotiations—ie, increased security of tenure, the establishment of intensive forestry across much of northern Ontario and compensation arrangements.]
  • Ontario derails progress on acid rain emissions reductions strategy. After three years of national multistakeholder consultation, all participants (industry, provincial and federal governments, environmentalists) agree with the latest science—emissions must be reduced by 75% to below critical loads in order to protect forests, rivers and lake ecosystems in Eastern Canada. Despite widespread agreement on the science, the severity of the situation, and a three year effort, Ontario refuses to agree to any reduction strategy. Further, with Environment and Natural Resources department funding cuts, future of Ontario's Forest Health Survey in doubt despite crucial need for long-term monitoring to help avoid massive forest dieback as has occurred in large areas of Europe.
    [No regulatory action on the horizon to control acid rain-causing pollutants. So far, Forest Health Survey has been maintained, ensuring crucial continuity of data collection.]
  • Passage of Bill 98 amending the Development Charges Act. New tools to limit developer contributions to community benefits (parks, etc.). Yet more tools to facilitate urban and suburban sprawl including new limits on the services and costs for which development charges can be levied and requirements to use existing services to service new development thereby working against infilling or intensification opportunities.
  • MoEE proposes changes to Regulation 347 (under the Environmental Protection Act) to exempt four waste materials from the definition of "waste", thus removing requirements for appropriate handling, treatment and disposal. Overall, the proposal contradicts the Ontario Fire Marshal recommendations following the Plastimet fire which called for strengthening of regulatory controls on "recycling" operations. The four materials include:
    1) "Chop line residues" contaminated with copper, lead, cadmium and at least two kinds of plastic. In a previous court case, MoEE opposed the removal of regulatory controls on chop line residues on the grounds that it was hazardous waste.
    2) "Pickle liquor" — high strength acid wastes, previously described by the MoEE as of significant concern to sewage treatment plant operation and emissions.
    3) Photochemical wastes described by MoEE as containing a wide range of contaminants; however, during the consultation period, no details of specific contaminants were provided.
    4) Wood and wood chip recycling with no replacement requirements for fire protection.
    [Regulation was eventually passed with no substantive changes made in response to concerns expressed by public interest groups.]
  • Second round of proposals to revise over 70 regulations administered by the MoEE — a continuation of a process begun in the summer of 1996. It includes backtracking on some proposed deregulation but it still proposes to significantly weaken controls on hazardous wastes. Impossible to make specific critique until release of actual text of regulations.
    [Regulations of most concern are those that could weaken controls on hazardous wastes; still not proposed for change as of May 99.]
  • Swift third reading passage of the misnamed Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to replace the Game and Fish Act. Continues the process, begun in the Omnibus Bill, of privatizing the management, by recreational hunting and fishing organizations, of Ontario’s fish and wildlife resources. The delegation of Ministerial management responsibilities will be possible despite, and at the expense of, the constitutional priority of the aboriginal and treaty rights of Native peoples. The new Act contains no definition of "conservation" and provides inadequate legal mechanisms to ensure the protection of "protected wildlife" (which are at risk from agents with Ministerial "authorizations" and land owners acting to protect their property) and biodiversity (which will be threatened by new rules for handling wildlife in captivity). Provides exceptionally broad authority to the Minister to allow either MNR or private actors to contravene the legislation or its related regulations; such Ministerial authorizations will not be subject to public scrutiny or debate.
  • Just before Christmas, the MoE quietly announced that the Adams Mine mega-dump proposal will go through a severely restricted environmental assessment hearing. A single technical issue will be addressed, denying public review of other, more fundamental issues of need and alternatives. The controversial proposal is opposed by over 90% of residents in northeastern Ontario. 

1998

By the end of fiscal year 1997-98, over 36% of staff is cut at the Ministry of the Environment (renamed from the Ministry of the Environment and Energy). And over 40% of staff is cut at the Ministry of Natural Resources. The staffing cuts are overwhelmingly in the areas of research, monitoring, inspection and enforcement of environmental laws. The overall budget cut from these two ministries is well over half a billion dollars ($677,264,400).
[Further cuts: 43% of what’s left of MNR’s funding made in the May 1999 budget.]

The Province’s cuts are at odds with the what Ontarians want. Opinion polls (over 8 since 1992) consistently show public support (in the range of 70 to 90%) for strict enforcement of environmental laws even during times of government debt and deficit cutting. There is similarly high levels of support for responsible management of public resources, including public control of water, and wilderness protection and expansion.
[More recent polling consistently finds similar results.] 

January to June, 1998

  • MNR off-loads responsibility for non-Native commercial fishing to the user group, the Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association. The agreement accessible only through Freedom of Information.
  • MoE makes deal with Dofasco such that the company will reduce its solid waste and air and water emissions in exchange for exemptions from Regulation 347 requirements to maintain records of hazardous and liquid waste shipments on public roads.
  • MoE launches smog plan and "Drive Clean", a vehicle emission testing program. Actual start date for "Drive Clean" delayed for another year (see Jan.-May 1999). Smog plan includes lengthy timelines for implementation, excessive reliance on voluntary action by industry, no emission reduction targets or monitoring and reporting mechanisms.
  • Ontario Medical Association issues report documenting health hazards from air pollution in Ontario citing increased rates of asthma and premature deaths and calls for tougher standards on mobile and stationary sources.
  • MoE proposes regulations for "standardized approvals" and "approval exemption" whereby a broad range of regulated activities would no longer have to obtain certificates of approval under the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act but would simply follow conditions laid out in the new regulations. Proposals provide for streamlining of approvals for a range of routine and relatively low-impact situations. However, the regulations also apply to some activities which may have significant adverse effects on the environment such as the operation of municipal waste transfer and processing stations, applications of sewage sludge to agricultural land and "one time" water takings. The effect of these proposals is to deny the public both notice and comment opportunities and rights to appeal or seek reviews or investigations of these instruments under the Environmental Bill of Rights. The latter rights concerning investigations remain if the standardized approval regulations are contravened.
  • Ontario Divisional Court finds three timber management plans to be "of no force and effect" noting that approved plans and work schedules lacked sustainability indicators, frequently included clear-cutting, provided no proof that the forest would be managed sustainably and scheduled plans for phasing in new standards were arbitrarily extended. Court gives the Province 12 months to bring the plans into compliance with the Crown Forest Sustainability Actand the Terms and Conditions of the Class Environmental Assessment of Timber Management on Crown Lands. A few months later, the Ontario Court of Appeal rejects Province’s application to amend the previous decision and grants cost award to the original public interest applicants (Wildlands League and Friends of Temagami) in the case.
  • Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Eva Ligeti tables third annual report to legislature again documenting numerous problems across the government and noting "little substantive improvement in the actions taken by provincial ministries toward protecting the environment".
  • MoE issues water-taking permit to Nova Group of Sault Ste. Marie to take 600 million litres/year from Lake Superior for export by tanker to Asia. After mushrooming into an international incident, MoE cancels the permit and issues a weak and unenforceable policy governing surface water transfers (see July-Dec. 99 and Jan-May 99).
  • Province seeks review by the Office of Privatization on whether and/or how the Ontario Clean Water Agency (which manages over 1/3 of Ontario’s municipal water and wastewater treatment facilities) should be privatized. If sold, it will be the biggest foothold in North America for multi-national water companies.
  • Citing the need for ensuring the public interest is served, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner orders MoE to respond to an Access to Information request made by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. The MoE initially attempted to charge the organization close to $20,000 to provide the list of companies in violation of their operating permits and those convicted of environmental offences (see January to May, 1999). 

July to December, 1998

  • MNR off-loads more of its responsibilities, this time for hunter education and licencing to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
  • Environmental Assessment Board issues first-ever split decision, two to one conditionally in favour of approving the Adams Mine mega-dump. Conditional approval includes requirement for additional bore-hole tests to determine whether the site will leak and decision on final approval, in lieu of test results, referred to the MoE, a party to the hearing which advocated for approval of the landfill. Cabinet subsequently accepts the majority Board decision and also approves the landfill, conditional on the test results. Adams Mine Intervention Coalition calls the Board’s decision illegal and launches judicial review application.
  • MNR posts on the EBR Registry a proposal to off-load responsibility for controlling the bait-fish industry to the Bait Association of Ontario. This growing industry has the potential, if not carefully managed, of ruining indigenous fish populations by inadvertent and illegal transfers of species from one water system to another.
  • Provincial Auditor tables 1998 Annual Report. MoE criticized for failing to act on previous (1996) recommendations concerning hazardous air pollutants. MNR cited as ineffectively assessing success or sustainable management of fish and wildlife programs.
  • Commission on Environmental Cooperation issues second annual report ("Taking Stock") again citing Ontario as third worst polluter in North America.
  • Legislature passes Bill 35, the Energy Competition Act, 1998 that divides Ontario Hydro into three entities and enables increased competition in the energy market. The bill contains administrative changes that have unexpected and negative consequences revealed in March of 1999 when the successor corporations are established (see Jan.-May 1999).
  • Nova Group of Sault Ste. Marie appeals the MoE decision to revoke its water-taking permit and later withdraws the appeal on the condition that no other company be given a similar permit. Nova them implies that it may go after inland supplies of groundwater for a water bottling business.
  • MoE proposes a regulation to ban inter-basin water transfers. Proposal is on shaky legal grounds since Ontario Water Resources Actmay not provide necessary authority. The proposal also fails to include groundwater or apply to intra-basin transfers (see Jan.-May 1999).
  • Continuing the practice of passing omnibus-style legislation, Legislature passes Bill 25, the Red Tape Reduction Act, 1998, a 290 page bill amending 98 different statutes. Under the guise of "red tape reduction" these enormous bills contain numerous, substantive changes affecting many different sectors and areas of concern and they contain no unifying theme. The Bill removes and/or delegates numerous permitting requirements under the Conservation Authorities Act, the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act and the Public Lands Act. Schedule C to the Act enables the Chief Legislative Council to revise statutes without approval by the legislature, essentially giving away the Legislature’s right to make laws (see: Democracy is just "a whole bunch of red tape," Intervenor, v.23 no.3, July-Sept, 1998, p.16; and Bills 25 and 82 are law, Bill 101 returns, Intervenor, v.23 no.4 Oct-Dec. 1998, p.16).
  • Following a ten day (illegal and inadequate, according the Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner) posting on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry, Legislature passes Bill 82, a 200 page bill amending the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Pesticides Act. Many useful/beneficial changes and some problematic, in particular, the Administrative Monetary Penalties scheme which requires detailed review when the implementing regulations are finalized, apparently during the spring of 1999.  

January to May, 1999

  • MoE’s "Drive Clean" program finally in operation. Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, and other reviewers note that the program will contribute to reducing only a small amount of smog-causing emissions and only if weaknesses in the program are corrected including the chance of fraudulent testing and repair work and the lack of application of key aspects of the Code of Practice developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. More important, MoE estimates of emission reductions attributable to the program appear to have been over-estimated, the effectiveness of the program is undermined by the government’s refusal to address urban sprawl and the need for expanded public transportation or to regulate air contaminants from industrial sources.
  • Documents leaked to the Globe and Mailreveal that MoE inspectors have been told to ignore numerous pollution incidents and complaints confirming public interest group predictions that cuts to Ministry budgets and staff have severely undermined the government’s ability to protect the environment.
  • CELA’s criticizes the government for allowing the three Ontario Hydro successor corporations to be exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Actstating that it is intolerable, for health, safety and environmental reasons, to contemplate the exemption of the new corporations from access to information provisions. CELA’s criticisms are echoed by former Attorney General, Ian Scott.
  • Province privately negotiates Ontario Forest Accord with forest industries and three environmental groups to establish protected areas in 12% of the forest management planning area in exchange for numerous concessions to the forest industry that will intensify timber extraction activities, entrench industrial tenure arrangements on Crown lands, compensate forest industries if further lands are protected and provide the forest industry with a veto over decisions about future protected areas. Although the Accord sees a substantial number of new protected areas, concerns remain about the security of those areas with respect to long term protection, especially given accompanying Ministry of Northern Development and Mines announcements which protects existing mining rights in new protected areas and also proposes to allow staking and exploration in new protected areas which contain "significant mineral potential." In addition, First Nations were not included in any of these private negotiations.
  • Environmental Commissioner for Ontario tables fourth annual report to legislature. Nearly 300 pages of detailed analysis and recommendations citing backtracking and/or lack of progress on numerous fronts. The Commissioner notes that "evidence of the deterioration of the province’s environmental protection standards is widespread".
  • Sierra Legal Defence Fund issues report summarizing data obtained via Access to Information. The data show increased violations and fewer convictions of industrial polluters in Ontario.
  • Ontario budget continues massive provincial subsidies for road building, nothing for public transit and further cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources. Pie charts aggregate data in misleading fashion to make environmental expenditures appear substantial when they are, in fact, a minor fraction of the amounts indicated.
  • Cabinet passes Ontario Water Resources Act regulation controlling surface water transfers. In response to criticisms, regulation has been expanded to include groundwater. Although a step in the right direction, since this new regulation may be vulnerable to legal challenge, Ontario still needs to develop comprehensive legislation to protect ground and surface water resources, to ensure safe drinking water and non-profit, public control of water and waste-water treatment facilities.

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Kathleen Cooper is a researcher at CELA