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Media Release: Building Resilience Through Accountability

For immediate release: Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Today at Queen's Park, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner (ECO) released his annual 2008-2009 report, "Building Resilience." The report is a critical assessment of the Provincial Government's management of our natural resources, highlighting shortcomings for a diverse spectrum of environmental policy issues.  As Ontario's outspoken, non-partisan environmental watchdog, Gord Miller makes a series of urgent suggestions regarding the provincial government's management of our aggregate resources, biofibre, and the overall response to the biodiversity crisis currently unfolding in our province.

The Report delineates the mass extinction taking place on a global level, and highlights Ontario as an example of a biologically rich and vast region at a crossroads.  The initial momentum of Ontairo's Biodiversity Strategy, introduced nearly five years ago has quickly died down as "serious shortcomings of the strategy have gone largely unaddressed."  The Commissioner also underlined the Environmental Communities' frustration with the ambiguity of the Strategy by highlighting that it does not outline respective responsibilities of Ontario's ministries, or set out timelines to accomplish measurable targets.  "Ontario has more species at risk than any other province," notes former Biodiversity Council member and Earthroots campaigner Josh Garfinkel.  "We are at a critical juncture where our provincial government can become leaders in conservation, but they must first revise the Biodiversity Strategy."

The ECO highlighted the Province's Forest Biofibre policy as an area of concern in his report, raising questions that Earthroots has long held about the sustainability and environmental basis for burning Ontario's forests for energy.  Miller states that he is concerned about the sustainability of our northern forests in general and explains that "this policy may not provide the climate change benefit advertised, especially in the vital near term."  It is clear from the Commissioner's that the province needs to rethink its approach to forest biofibre as an energy source, not only for biofibre's true ability to provide reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also to maintain soil quality and nutrients to ensure the future productivity and health of Ontario's public forests.

The commissioner also outlines concerns with the Ministry of Natural Resource's (MNR's) lax approach with new aggregate operations. Earlier this year the MNR denied a request for review of aggregate legislation filed by citizens who are frustrated that cumulative impacts of aggregate mining are not being considered in the approval of new operations. Citing strong concerns over the high priority given to these operations at the expense of other land uses, the ECO criticizes MNR's passing of the buck, noting that "in essence, MNR took the position that thinking about cumulative effects was not its responsibility."

Earthroots continues to encounter these issues as they work to assess the cumulative impacts of water use from the aggregate industry and other large water users on the Oak Ridges Moraine. Currently, there are 121 aggregate operations on the Moraine, underlining what the ECO terms the 'Swiss Cheese Syndrome.'  Earthroots preliminary research reveals that cumulative impacts are not being adequately examined or considered, echoing the ECO's concern that under the current system, areas like the Moraine that are rich in aggregates will be increasingly pockmarked by water filled holes and damaged aquifers. "It is our hope that the MNR will act upon the ECO's recommendation to develop a regionally based planning system that considers the full cumulative impacts of the operations it approves," says Earthroots Campaigner Josh Kohler. "If we are to truly build resilience thinking into land use planning decisions, Ontario's Ministries must be held accountable for ensuring their activities are sustainable."

For more information please contact Earthroots' Campaigners Josh Kohler or Josh Garfinkel at 416-599-0152.