Ontario falling behind on environment

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

Report blasts government for underfunding ministries and getting waylaid by critics of environmental protection

December 1st, 2011


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Guest post by Blair Eveleigh, senior associate editor

Cottagers are outdoorsy people. That’s the whole point, really: To spend time in nature and to appreciate the great Canadian wilderness, away from the urban (or suburban or small-town) environment we are in for most of our days. Otherwise, why bother? Well, it appears we’re not doing a very good job of looking after our natural heritage here in Ontario, or at least our government isn’t. That’s the conclusion of Gord Miller, the provincial environmental commissioner, in his latest annual report, just out this week. (You may have missed it, if you get your news from the Globe and Mail or the National Post, neither of which reported anything at all about the report or Miller’s press conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.)

Miller’s findings are damning. He claims that the two government ministries mandated to protect our environment and natural resources, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources, have dropped the ball, and he is concerned that Ontario has lost momentum and is spinning its wheels on waste diversion, protecting species at risk, and other important goals. But this inaction isn’t accidental, says Miller, “it’s actually the goal of critics of environmental protection.” Whenever someone says they don’t believe there’s a problem, the MOE and the MNR go back to their research findings “to debate and explain it all over again. And then, when it looks like progress is being made, others say the proposed solutions won’t work, or are too costly. And so we go back to the beginning again.” Meanwhile, we lose time, the problems get worse, and doing something to ameliorate the damage gets harder.

It’s not that the Liberal government hasn’t done some positive things; the Endangered Species Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, and the Green Energy Act are all great. The problem is that these legislative initiatives all need significant funding and oversight, and that’s where the government falls short. Miller’s report is blunt: The MOE and the MNR can’t handle their core responsibilities, let alone the extra work required by new laws. After accounting for inflation, the MNR’s budget is down 22 per cent from what it was in the early 1990s and the MOE’s has dropped a whopping 45 per cent. Imagine if you had to pay all your bills, mortgage, etc., if your income were cut almost in half. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Speaking of underfunding, consider this: Only 0.76 per cent of the government’s operational expenditures goes to these two ministries. That’s a pittance, so it’s no wonder they can’t do what we would like them to do, what they should do, to protect our natural heritage. I’ve written my MPP and asked him to raise this issue in the legislature. If enough people do the same, maybe we can get McGuinty and friends to do the right thing and get Ontario back on track.

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Penny Caldwell