Intervenor: vol. 26, no. 1, January - March 2001

Walkerton Update - Looking Ahead at the Walkerton Inquiry

Since October of 2000, CELA has been acting as counsel for Concerned Walkerton Citizens (CWC) at Part IA of the Walkerton Inquiry. Part IA dealt with the question of what happened that lead to the death of seven people and some 2000 people to become ill. This Part of the Inquiry lasted over 40 hearing days.

Part IB of the Inquiry commenced on March 6 for a total of three days and then adjourned until April 12, 2001. Since that time, the Inquiry has been on-going. Part IB deals with what impact government policy had on the tragedy, see related information, below. What is interesting is the scope and breadth of the issues. Most importantly, changes at the MoE (such as the privatization of testing laboratories), budget cuts at the ministry and other ministries, deregulation and other regulatory changes affecting drinking water are now being fully examined. Other issues like the role of the Red Tape Commission, the findings of the Environmental Commissioner, the role of the Federal-Provincial Drinking Water Coordination Committee have also come before the Inquiry. Thus far, the Inquiry has provided an unique insight into how the Ministry works and its relationship with central agencies (such as Cabinet). In particular, the funding levels of the MoE, and more important, how the decision-making processes were undertaken as the ministry budget was reduced over 30% highlight just how much the ministry has changed in the 1990s. Part IB is scheduled to continue until June 29, 2001, followed by a five week break in order for the parties to write their arguments for Parts IA and Part IB of the Inquiry.

Commencing August 13, 2001, two weeks have been reserved for the parties to formally present their argument to the Commissioner in Walkerton.

While Part I of the Inquiry has been on-going, Part II of the Inquiry is concurrently being conducted. Part II of the Inquiry deals with its broader mandate to develop recommendations directed to protecting the province's drinking water. This part of the Inquiry is being undertaken through the commissioning of expert papers, the submission of position papers, expert meetings, public and town hall meetings. Part II has been on-going since March and will continue until September.

With CWC, CELA has been active in participating in the Part II process. It has also drafted a position papers on the need for a Safe Drinking Water Act and a Model Water Law, see related information,below.

Based on Part I and II, the Commission will draft its report to the Government of Ontario. It has committed to submit its report in December of this year.

Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA