Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights Weakened, but Still Valuable

Article excerpt

The new Ontario government has scaled back the province's ground-breaking environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), but the province's environmental commissioner says the law remains a useful tool for government accountability.

Ontario Regulation 482/95, announced in late 1995, removes the Ministry of Finance from the list of ministries that must comply with the law. It also temporarily suspends public notice-requirements for environmentally significant proposals linked to government cost cutting.

The environmental commissioner, Eva Ligeti, says the changes weaken the EBR and constrain her role, but should not be perceived as the death knell for the two-year-old law. She believes that the public can still use the law to demand government accountability and that the law's purpose remains essential.

"While the current climate of fiscal restraint may suggest otherwise, environmental protection and sustainability are achievable and essential," says Ligeti. "They're necessary to retain what we currently enjoy, for future environmental quality, and economic development and competitiveness."

The EBR requires each ministry to establish a Statement of Environmental Values outlining how the ministry will integrate the EBR into its work. The law also sets up an Environmental Registry, a computer bulletin board of information about proposed environmental policies, laws, regulations and instruments, or changes to existing ones.

The ministries to which the EBR applies must post this information on the registry and give the public a minimum of 30 days to comment. As well, the ministries are required to consider public comments when making their decisions.

"Because it is free and accessible at more than 300 libraries and community information centres across Ontario or from a home or office by modem, the registry opens up the government decision-making process to the public in ways never before seen in Ontario, or Canada, for that matter," Ligeti says."essentially, the Environmental Bill of Rights seeks to protect, conserve and restore the natural environment. Regulation 482/95 decreases opportunities to participate in these processes. …