CELA Annual Report, 2005 - excerpted article

On the Land

We know that urbanization, resource development, waste management, and other human activities “on the land” can have profound impacts on ecosystem health and public safety.

Air quality gets worse when urban sprawl perpetuates car dependence. Water quality and quantity is impaired when development degrades or depletes watercourses, wetlands, woodlands, and recharge areas.

Governments in Canada have attempted, with mixed success, to implement legal and policy tools that provide what are essentially planning mechanisms to mitigate or prevent environmental harm from development decisions.  Through its casework and law reform activities in recent years, CELA has been actively involved in the ongoing refinement of such tools in the areas of environmental assessment and land use planning.

Environmental Assessment
Environmental assessment (EA) generally refers to planning and decision-making procedures that allow for advance scrutiny of the biophysical and socio-economic impacts of proposed projects (and their alternatives). Good EA processes are publicly accessible and accountable.

Federal EA obligations are entrenched in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). In recent years, CELA has submitted legal briefs to the federal government regarding amendments to CEAA and has participated in important court cases involving CEAA application to projects such as highway construction and uranium mining. 

 In Ontario, EA obligations are prescribed by the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA).  In recent years, CELA has represented citizens’ groups in civil litigation and administrative proceedings under the EAA in matters such as hazardous waste incinerators and landfill expansions.  More often than not, proponents attempt to site these risk-laden facilities near or within low-income communities in rural or northern areas of the province.

CELA has undertaken extensive law reform and public outreach activities in relation to Ontario’s EA legislation.  In particular, CELA’s “EA Project” resulted in a comprehensive critique of the EAA (see A. Levy, “A Review of Environmental Assessment in Ontario”, 11 Journal of Environmental Law & Practice 173).  CELA frequently provides summary advice to Ontarians on numerous EA issues, particularly in relation to projects (i.e. municipal roads, water works or sewage works) that are proposed under the streamlined requirements of “Class EA’s” approved under the EAA.

 In 2004, CELA was appointed by Ontario’s Environment Minister to the province’s EA Advisory Panel which undertook a review of all aspects of Ontario’s EA program. The panel’s detailed report contained numerous recommendations for legal, policy and administrative reforms.  The revised EA framework developed by the Advisory Panel is expected to serve as the template for Ontario’s EA reform in the near future.

“On behalf of the provincial government, I would like to express my appreciation [to CELA] for your contribution in developing the recommendations provided to me by the Advisory Panel on Improvements to Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Process.  I appreciated the leading role you assumed as a member of the Executive Group, and in the development of the report.”

-- The Hon. Leona Dombrowsky, March 31, 2005

Land Use Planning 
Ontario municipalities are generally empowered under the Planning Act to develop official plans, impose zoning by-laws, and approve planning instruments in a manner that safeguards matters of provincial interest (i.e. ensuring compact development, protecting natural heritage, preserving prime agricultural lands, etc.).  In some instances, CELA has represented residents in appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board where municipalities have failed to use their planning and zoning powers in an appropriate manner.

However, the Ontario government has recently amended the Planning Act and issued a new Provincial Policy Statement to provide clearer direction to planning authorities that make land use decisions under the Planning Act.  In some areas of Ontario, the provincial government has also established special land use plans that constrain development in order to protect agriculturally or environmentally significant areas (e.g., the Niagara Escarpment Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and Greenbelt Plan 2005).  Working with other non-governmental organizations, CELA monitored and responded to these initiatives where warranted over the past three years.

Since the provincial planning framework now emphasizes infilling and land use intensification, there has been renewed interest in redeveloping of “brownfield” sites across Ontario.  These sites, which are typically found in older industrial or waterfront locations, are often left undeveloped due to concerns about the high cost of cleaning up contamination caused by historic uses of the property.

To alleviate such concerns – and to ensure the efficient remediation of such sites in order to protect public health – the Ontario government recently enacted “brownfield” amendments to the Environmental Protection Act and regulations.  CELA has been closely monitoring and responding to these “brownfield” reforms.  The challenge in the coming years will be to determine whether the reforms have fully addressed the daunting technical, legal and fiscal issues associated with “brownfield” redevelopment.