Environmental Planning Law a Dismal Failure Published Report Finds - Backgrounder

Jun 12 2002

The Environmental Assessment Act was first passed in 1975. Traditionally, it has involved a comprehensive planning process, which includes an examination of need and alternatives. The regime encompasses the physical (natural) and human (social, economic and cultural) aspects of environment and applies to provincial and municipal undertakings (including proposals, plans and programs) with significant environmental impacts, and those private sector projects, which are designated by regulation. Under the 1975 law, the Environmental Assessment Board was established to conduct hearings and render binding decisions (subject to Cabinet review) with respect to applications referred to it by the Minister of the Environment. A "Class EA" system was developed to process the large number of routine projects which occur frequently, have a predictable range of effects, and cause only minor environmental impacts. Throughout the late 1980s and mid-1990s, efforts were underway to address concerns over delay, cost and uncertainty as to outcome. Shortly after coming to power, the new government in 1995 began to radically change the environmental assessment system (through both practice and legislative amendments). In January 1996, the government passed a new environmental assessment statute, the Environmental Assessment and Consultation Improvement Act, S.O. 1996, c. 27. In 2000, the Canadian Environmental Law Association initiated a review of the provincial environmental assessment regime and this resulted in the publication of two articles (linked files below):"Scoping Issues and Imposing Time Limits by Ontario's Environment Minister at Environmental Assessment Hearings - A History and Case Study" (2000), Journal of Environmental Law and Policy "A Review of Environmental Assessment in Ontario" Journal of Environmental Law and Policy (released June 2002). The latest report concludes that, flowing from both the government's application of the previous and the new law, environmental assessment in the province entails much more political intervention in decision-making, and far less environmental planning. Some of the failings of the new environmental assessment regime include:

  • Increased political control
  • Decreased scope of environmental assessments
  • Relaxed standards for approval
  • Reduced public participation
  • Refusal to grant hearing requests
  • Lack of monitoring and enforcement
The report concludes that: "The findings from this review of contemporary EA in Ontario reveal that much of the approach taken to reforming the program, which has been underway since 1995, is quite flawed. The principal reason for this may be that the package of reforms implemented by the Government was not designed with the goal of enhancing environmental protection. Rather, the evidence suggests that its purpose appears to have been the removal of perceived barriers to economic growth, financial prosperity and individual liberty or autonomy. Paradoxically, it is questionable whether these values have been advanced as a result."