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The Ford government has created a Black Hole of Environmental Public Accountability, hidden behind the COVID-19 response

 

 

Don't let your environmental concerns be silenced - take action now!

 

A special blog by Gord Miller, Earthroots Chair and former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

Citing administrative challenges created by the COVID-19 response, the Ford government has announced a new regulation which removes the requirement for numerous government ministries to notify and consult the public before they pass environmentally significant laws, regulations or policies, or before they issue certain environmentally important licenses or permits. Formerly these decisions had to be posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry for at least 30 days before they could be implemented. These Registry postings gave Earthroots the ability to find out what the government was up to and give us a way to mobilize our thousands of supporters to raise concerns and objections, and otherwise let the ministry involved know what they thought of the proposal through the Registry comment process. Earthroots campaigns based on Registry postings have resulted in a number of proposed environmentally damaging ideas being withdrawn, reversed or modified.

This new regulation will suspend the use of the Registry for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency (however long that is) and continue for 30 days after it ends. Not only will that blind Earthroots and the public to controversial decisions being considered and put in place during that period, but we won’t know afterwards what was actually added, cancelled or changed. If this emergency goes on for many months as some have suggested, there will be a permanent “Black Hole” in the public policy record. We might not find out that an old-growth forestry policy had been changed, or a controversial water taking permit had been issued, until perhaps a year or more later when some damage or problem comes to light. and the ministry responsible simply says that they made the pertinent decision during the blackout. 

Earthroots does not suggest that ministries will act in bad faith during this blackout period however we have to note that this situation creates an incentive for public servants or political operatives to implement bad environmental decisions, which they know the public would not favour, and push them into the Black Hole to obscure their actions.

But the regulation is worse than that. Another protection that is in in Section 11 of the Environmental Bill of Rights is the requirement for ministries to draft and post a Statement of Environmental Values (SEVs) that must be considered whenever decisions that might significantly affect the environment are made in that ministry. The new regulation specifically exempts the ministries from Section 11. This means that in addition to getting relief from the posting requirements, the ministries do not even have to consider their commitment to protect the environment made in their SEVs. 

Now I know it sounds bureaucratic, but the removal the the requirement to consider their SEVs will profoundly change the environmental protection culture and thinking inside the ministries. And it will disempower those public servants on the inside of government who have been quietly working in the interests of those things we all value. SEVs are the very heart of the Environmental Bill of Rights and, by extension, environmental protection planning in Ontario. We acknowledge that there needs to be some compromises made to allow the government to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we cannot let this crisis reverse 30 years of progress in environmental planning and protection.

 

Don't let your environmental concerns be silenced - take action now!

 

Read the letter submitted to the Premier on behalf of more than 40 environmental organizations.