Auditor General Slams Ontario’s Outdated Environmental Assessment Act – Groups Urge Government to Act

Joint media release from CELA, MiningWatch Canada, Wildlands League, and Wildlife Conservation Society Canada

Dec 01 2016

Toronto – In the wake of yesterday’s damning report by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in which she directed harsh criticism at the province’s environmental assessment (EA) program, environmental organizations are encouraged by Environmental Minister Glenn Murray’s commitment for ‘substantive reforms’ to modernize Ontario’s environmental assessment process.

As noted by the Auditor General: “Ontario’s environmental assessment process needs to be modernized and aligned with best practices in Canada and internationally. Because the Act is 40 years old— and is, in fact, the oldest environmental assessment legislation in Canada—it falls short of achieving its intended purpose.”

Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), CPAWS Wildlands League, MiningWatch Canada and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada agree with both the Auditor General and Minister Murray and say that it is time to fix Ontario’s broken EA program. They recently released a roadmap to help the government get it right.

“The Auditor General's report provides an excellent compilation of the major problems that continue to plague Ontario's EA program,” said CELA lawyer Richard Lindgren. “We call upon the provincial government to implement the Auditor General's well-founded recommendations as soon as possible.”

The Auditor General is not the only independent watchdog that is critical of Ontario’s EA program. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has warned – not once, but twice – about the “vision lost” within the EA regime, and has recommended that the government “restore” the vision through a public review of the Environmental Assessment Act and related regulations. Over 10 years ago, the Minister’s own EA Advisory Panel produced strong recommendations that were never fully implemented.

A revitalized EA program will help Ontarians address our changing climate and the need to transition to a prosperous, low-carbon economy. This is because the major projects subject to EA – such as landfills, provincial highways, and infrastructure projects – often involve releases of greenhouse gases or affect carbon storage.

Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050,” said WCS Canada scientist Dr. Cheryl Chetkiewicz. “Yet, the province’s Environmental Assessment Act and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s recent draft guide on climate change are unlikely to deliver on addressing the serious nature of climate change in Ontario”.

Strengthening and expanding EA requirements is also appropriate in the mining sector, particularly since Ontario has over 4,400 abandoned mine sites. As the Auditor General previously observed in 2015, this legacy poses significant environmental and financial risks to Ontarians. ”While Ontario is the largest mineral producer in Canada, it remains the only jurisdiction in the country where mines are not automatically subjected to a provincial EA and public consultation process,” said MiningWatch Canada program coordinator Ugo Lapointe.

“With the federal government hosting public hearings on its own EA review, the timing is perfect for Ontario to do the same,” said CPAWS Wildlands League director of conservation planning Anna Baggio. “We can repair the EA system in Canada’s most populous province and set us on the path to true sustainability. The best time to do that is now.”

The groups recently published a roadmap to reform Ontario’s environmental assessment regime: Need for Environmental Assessment Reform in Ontario.

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For additional information contact:
Richard Lindgren, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association, 613.385.1686
Anna Baggio, Director, Conservation Planning, CPAWS Wildlands League, 416.453.3285 mobile
Ugo Lapointe, Canadian Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, 514.708.0134 mobile
Dr. Cheryl Chetkiewicz, Associate Conservation Scientist & Landscape Lead, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, 807.285.9125