Environmental protection at risk

Guest post by Blair Eveleigh, senior associate editor

Okay, the Ontario budget may have passed (yay, no election!), but the bill to enact amendments coming out of that budget is still yet to pass; it’s Bill 55, the Strong Action for Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2012, and it’s in its second reading debate in the legislature. As the Conservatives are doing in Ottawa with the federal budget, the Liberals have lumped all the revisions together into one omnibus bill, meaning that changes to individual acts will not get substantial debate and public consultation. There are 69 acts affected by this bill, so there are a lot of changes about to go through all at once.

Today, in an open letter to the premier, more than 50 groups, including the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, Greenpeace, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Ontario Nature, have asked the government to separate out the acts that have to do with the environment, concerned by the weakening of the protection these acts provide. Among the acts are the Endangered Species Act, 2007, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, 2006, the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994, the Public Lands Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997.

Here’s some of what the letter has to say: “A legal analysis conducted by Ecojustice and the Canadian Environmental Law Association reveals that Bill 55 significantly undermines the level of environmental protection and public oversight of natural resource use and conservation by: exempting industrial and development activities from legal requirements to protect wildlife and natural resources; broadening exemption powers; allowing the delegation of government authority to other unspecified bodies; and extending or eliminating deadlines for planning and reporting (e.g., species recovery strategies, park management plans, reports to the Legislature).”

Just as the feds are making environmental assessments less arduous, particularly for resource industries such as mining and pipelines, it appears that the Ontario government thinks that the difficult economic times call for less diligence and oversight. If so many groups find the weakening of environmental laws “deeply disturbing,” then we should all be as disturbed.