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48 Groups Demand Ontario Action on Environmental Bill of Rights Reform

Almost exactly seven years ago to the day, CELA filed a detailed Application for Review of Ontario’s decades-old Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993.

This Application was submitted under Part IV of the EBR, and identified a number of significant problems, gaps and loopholes in the provincial law. Other stakeholders and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario have also flagged key EBR matters that require legislative reform.

To remedy these outstanding issues, CELA’s Application recommended various amendments to strengthen the EBR, and to ensure that the statute actually achieves its stated purposes of environmental protection, public participation, and governmental accountability.

In early 2011, the Environment Ministry agreed that it was in the public interest to review the EBR. Over the years, however, the Ministry has made no public announcements about any statutory reforms that it intends to implement in order to improve the EBR.

In CELA’s view, the province’s continuing delay in announcing the outcome of the EBR review is inexcusable and unreasonable. This is particularly true since the Ministry belatedly undertook limited public consultations last year on potential EBR reforms, and the public comment period ended in November 2016. Clearly, the Ontario government has had ample opportunity to develop and introduce appropriate EBR changes, but has declined to do so to date.

Ontario’s ongoing failure to implement – or even announce – EBR reform in a timely manner has prompted 48 local, provincial and national environmental groups to send a joint letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne and opposition leaders.

This letter strongly criticizes Ontario’s inaction on EBR reform, and calls upon the provincial government to pursue the most pressing amendments needed within the EBR, including: updating the EBR purposes and principles; enhancing citizens’ access to environmental information; revising the EBR appeal process regarding licences, permits and approvals; and establishing a public right to healthful environment.

The numerous signatories to this joint letter recently received a reply email from the Premier, who advises that the government takes environmental stewardship “very seriously.” However, her email contains no information on when – or if – the province’s proposed EBR reforms will be introduced in the Ontario Legislature.

Nevertheless, this email goes on to indicate that the groups’ EBR concerns have been forwarded to the Environment Minister, who, according to the Premier, will give them “careful consideration.”

Given that the topic of EBR reform has been under “careful consideration” by the Ministry for the past several years, CELA draws no comfort from the Premier’s brief email. In our view, serious reform of the EBR is long overdue, and must, of necessity, include legislative change as well as regulatory, policy, and administrative improvements.

CELA further notes that the EBR was originally enacted with all-party support in 1993. Therefore, in the run-up to the next provincial election in June 2018, CELA and other groups will continue to call upon all political parties for a firm commitment to immediately deliver substantive EBR reform.