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Q and A with Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe

Last week, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Dianne Saxe, issued her final report to the Ontario legislature. The report was especially notable because the ECO was recently eliminated by a change in provincial leadership. CELA caught up with Saxe for a quick phone interview to hear her thoughts about the 25th anniversary of Ontario’s landmark Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) and what the loss of the ECO means to the province.

It’s been 25 years since the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) was established. Why was it so significant?
For 25 years, the EBR has given Ontarians the right to participate in government decisions that affect the environment. The public has had notice of environmentally important proposals, and a legal right to comment and to have those comments taken seriously. It has also given them a right to challenge environmentally harmful permits, and the ability to call for government action. Ontario’s environment is healthier today, because Ontario passed the EBR 25 years ago. It has really led to better environmental outcomes. The EBR is a unique and valuable law that all Ontarians can be proud of, and should cherish.

Why is the ECO important for Ontario?
We’ve played an important role as champions of environmental rights. We’ve been an important check on what’s happening. We’ve also played a really significant role in getting government to comply with regulations under the bill.

What are some of the ECO’s achievements that you’re proudest of?
There are so many. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done to promote public understanding about the effects of climate change. People across Ontario, and beyond, have come to rely on our reliable, fact-based, non-partisan reports about energy, environment and climate. They know they can trust us to do our homework, to be fair and to put the environment first. I’ve gone from town to town talking to communities and meeting everyone from government workers to employees of chemical companies. They may not like the news I have to give them, but they like knowing that they know.

How do you think the end of the ECO will affect Ontario in the future?
Without the ECO, Ontarians will have to be even more vigilant. No one should blindly assume that the province will do a good job of environmental protection, especially as climate change, ecosystem collapse, and destruction of biodiversity all gather speed. It now falls on the media and the public and groups like yours to hold the government to account.

The above Q and A is a re-post of March 2019 Bulletin content

Photo credit: Outgoing Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe/Handout