Ontario Public Armed to Compel Environmental Responsibility

Article excerpt

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

Ministries of the Ontario government are slammed for an "alarming lack" of environmental vision, monitoring and reporting. Environmental programs have been slashed with little thought about the consequences, and legislation enacted with little or no public consultation. Government and industry efforts to improve environmental protection appear to be threatened. But an Environmental Bill of Rights and an electronic registry have provided Ontarians with powerful tools to compel better environmental responsibility by government. And the new tools are being widely used. Speech to the Environmental Trade Show and Conference, Toronto, May 6.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk to you about Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights, how its principles are relevant to your work, and how you can use it to support your business goals while improving Ontario's natural environment.

In Ontario, the protection, conservation, and restoration of Ontario's natural environment is serious business. So serious, in fact, that Ontarians of all ages, from all walks of life, and from all parts of this province are making it their business to learn more about it and what they can do to protect it.

In a recent national poll by Environics, 53% of Canadians said environmental pollution was their first or second concern on questions that pose the greatest threat to future generations. Depletion of natural resources was the third major concern of 33% of the respondents.

Fifty-two percent of Canadians said they want government to slowly and continuously pass stricter environmental laws. Another 30% want government to move quickly to make environmental laws even stricter. Only 3% want government to remove the requirements of the laws that already exist.

These results are consistent with what I've heard from people all over this province -- that people want the Ontario government to use its power to protect, restore and conserve the natural environment.

I released my 1996 annual report on April 22, Earth Day. The report is framed against a backdrop of rapid environmental deregulation and the effects of cutbacks, and focuses on the importance of accountability and public consultation.

Throughout 1996 the ministries I reviewed demonstrated an alarming lack of environmental vision. There was little commitment to environmental monitoring and reporting. Environmental programs were slashed with little thought to the environmental consequences. Omnibus-style legislation moved ahead with little or no public consultation.

My report recommends that the ministries assess and summarize the environmental effects of proposed actions and consult with Ontarians using the Environmental Registry -- before they finalize proposals that may affect the environment.

Some of the decisions made in 1996 will mean less direct provincial involvement in protecting the environment, and more emphasis on local solutions to environmental challenges. Ontarians will be looking to their municipal leaders to establish environmental protection measures, and to local businesses to establish pollution prevention strategies. And, more and more, Ontarians will be using the Environmental Bill of Rights to make sure their right to a healthful environment is safeguarded.

Indeed, my report shows how using the Environmental Bill of Rights has improved environmental decisions and helped avoid environmental problems by giving the public a say in the decision-making process.

The Environmental Bill of Rights recognizes that the government has the primary responsibility to protect the environment, but people need tools to figure out whether the government is actually taking its responsibility seriously. The Environmental Bill of Rights offers up those tools -- including ways for everyone to participate in environmental decision making and processes that lead to greater accountability of government decision makers. …