Intervenor: Vol 24. No 2 April - June 1999

The Regulatory Cracks Widen; CEPA Passes - Executive Director's Report: After the Ontario Election: CEPA

There is little doubt that it is tough slogging these days for those who work to protect the health and the environment of the people of Ontario. Although there were many media reports on the declining state of Ontario's environment and the dramatic downsizing of the environment ministries, the environment was not a key election issue. It is obvious that the public is still unaware of how threatened public health and the environment are by the weakening of environmental laws and policies in this province.

The question is, where do we go from here? For the past four years, CELA has undertaken enormous efforts in responding to what we have referred to as the three "Ds"-deregulation, downsizing and devolution. We are hoping that the new government will not continue the 3-D trend. We hope the government realizes that the Ontario public is seriously concerned about the reduced capacity of government to respond to environmental issues, and that it is time it gets on with the business of protecting the public interest by tackling some of the pressing environmental problems that confront all of us.

CEPA will not be the key-stone law we had hoped

Those of us who had hoped that the federal government's new Canadian Environment Protection Act would supply the leadership the provinces seem to be lacking are bitterly disappointed with Bill C-32 (see artlice, linked below). Bill C-32 came out of the committee process in good shape. It contained a strong precautionary statement, and it called for "the phase out of generation and use" of persistent toxins. By the time industry and the Cabinet were through with it, Bill C-32 had become just another weak piece of environmental legislation that seems destined to be successfully circumvented by industry and by provinces concerned more with the business of business than with the business of the public interest.

A healthy environment is a "fundamental value"

As with governments in the past, CELA is always willing to work with agencies that want to protect our environment and our health through the development of more stringent standards, more comprehensive policies and updated regulations. CELA has the expertise and competence to provide real value to such initiatives, and we have the unique and rich experience of working with clients who are facing real environmental problems.

However, while CELA is willing to work toward better legislation and regulation, we will retain our role as being a vocal and effective critic where government efforts seek to undermine whatever protections are now in place to protect the environment and human health.

It will be interesting, over the next few years, to assess whether provincial and federal governments will understand and act upon the reality, as stated by Mr. Justice LaForest in the Hydro-Quebec decision, that a healthy environment is a "fundamental value" of Canadians.

In our view, there will be enormous public support-support that hasn't been seen for over a decade-for any government that strives to place this "fundamental value" at the centre of its policies and legislative agenda.

We will have to wait and see how governments respond.

Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA