Part of the job of the Environmental Commissioner is to monitor and report on how well the Ontario government respects Ontarians’ environmental rights. This year, my office took a new approach to reporting on government compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR): by issuing report cards of how well each ministry executed their responsibilities.
Thanks to the EBR every Ontarian has the right to participate in government decisions that affect the environment. The EBR provides powerful, but often underappreciated, tools that enable the public to better protect Ontario’s environment. But these tools are only as strong as the government allows them to be. I wanted to shine a light on how well the Ontario government is enabling the public to use their environmental rights, and to highlight where ministries are falling down, and where ministries’ efforts should be celebrated.
Fourteen provincial ministries currently have varying responsibilities under the EBR. These ministries must provide prompt and meaningful information to enable public participation through the Environmental Registry. Whether it is introducing a sweeping new law that will have impacts for the whole province, or issuing a permit that may affect a local stream, the government needs to let the public know about the proposal, and give the public an opportunity to provide input on it. Good environmental outcomes go hand-in-hand with effectively engaging the public.
The report cards found that ministries with a relatively light EBR “workload” generally execute their few obligations well. Conversely, ministries with moderate and heavy EBR workloads are more likely to have instances of non-compliance or poor execution of their responsibilities, such as posting delayed notices of ministry decisions. This type of poor practice can leave the public in the dark about whether a company got the proper approval to operate. And, in the worst cases, it could potentially delay by years the opportunity for the public to appeal the permit, all the while the company has been operating.
However, the good news is that many of the ministries are making clear efforts to improve. I am very pleased to see that since my office began the conversation with government on strengthening EBR practices over the last six months, many ministries have made significant improvement in clearing up their backlog of outdated notices on the Environmental Registry.
As Ontario’s environmental watchdog, I’ll continue to make sure that over the rest of my term the government meets a high bar in respecting the public’s environmental rights. In 2016/2017, my office will be looking for improvements in four key areas:
- Better content of instrument notices posted on the Environmental Registry;
- Posting decision notices promptly;
- Avoiding outdated proposals; and
- Avoiding overdue applications for review.
Serving the public is what the Environmental Bill of Rights is all about. I am confident that by working together we can make a really good set of environmental rights even more effective for the public!
You can find the whole set of EBR report cards here: https://eco.auditor.on.ca/reports/ebr-performance-checkup-2016/
You can also browse by ministry here: https://eco.auditor.on.ca/government-performance/