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© Lora Denis
In February 2019, we sounded the alarm about the provincial government’s plans to amend the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). Well, their proposed amendments are in and it’s worse than we predicted.
On April 18, 2019, Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) posted an overview of its proposed changes to Ontario’s ESA. These changes would roll back protections for Ontario’s most vulnerable plants and animals and give industry and developers the green light to destroy their habitats.
In effect, if the changes go forward, the act would be repealed in everything but the name, rendering it pointless. Here are our top 10 concerns:
MECP wants to allow developers and other proponents of harmful activities to pay into a fund in lieu of fulfilling requirements for on-the-ground compensation. This easy way out reduces accountability and makes it far easier to proceed with activities that harm species at risk and their habitats.
The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) is a committee comprised of qualified scientists who perform science-based assessments of whether a species is at risk. MECP is proposing to broaden COSSARO membership so that it includes those with “community knowledge” – a vague term that could open up COSSARO to those who do not have adequate expertise in species assessment or have a different agenda altogether.
COSSARO would be required to base its assessments not on the status of a species in Ontario, but instead on its status throughout its range. For example, southern Ontario endangered species at the northern limit of their range may receive less or no protection, depending on their status outside Ontario. This is especially concerning in the face of climate change because healthy species populations are needed at their northern limits to help species adapt to changing climatic conditions.
The Minister would be able to limit ESA protections so that they apply only in specific geographies or under specific circumstances. This could exclude important habitats and species from protection.
The listing of species at risk would be “de-coupled” from automatic protections for threatened and endangered species and their habitats and the Minister would have greater “discretion on protections.”
This includes allowing the Minister to suspend species and habitat protections for up to three years based on social or economic considerations. Note, such delays would be exempted from Environmental Bill of Rights posting and consultation requirements. This means that the public would receive no notice and have no input on such decisions. Meanwhile, those with political connections could undermine species protections without full public scrutiny.
MECP proposes to create “landscape agreements” for proponents undertaking harmful activities in multiple locations. Such an approach does not lend itself to addressing site-specific or species-specific concerns and consequently presents unwarranted additional risk for species already in peril.
MECP wants to allow activities approved under other laws to be carried out without any additional authorizations under the ESA, even if they harm threatened or endangered species or their habitats. This may be the golden ticket for forestry and other industries seeking permanent exemptions from the ESA.
The Minister would be able to require COSSARO to reconsider its science-based listing decisions. This change would make it possible for developers and others who have the ear of government to derail the listing process if they don’t like a COSSARO decision.
Currently, the ESA requires that the Minister consult with an independent expert prior to creating regulations that would jeopardize the survival of a species, or issuing permits for harmful activities that would provide a significant social or economic benefit to Ontario. This requirement would be removed.
Multiple delays are proposed for the listing, planning and reporting on species at risk, undermining species recovery. Of deep concern is the proposal to list species nine months after COSSARO makes its assessments public – during this time vulnerable plants, animals and their habitats could be eliminated before protections kick in.
You can download and print a handout version of this blog here.
This conservative government lead by Doug Ford is reckless, ignorant and greedy. They are only concerned with lining their own pockets and the pockets of the middle and upper class. They need to be stopped.
Regulatory capture is a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector is is charged with regulating. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/regulatory-capture.asp
Nature conservation is very important and should be placed before profit.
This government is essentially removing the people from any input as to what happens to the land they live on and the creatures that are their neighbours.. There is definitely no foresight in this minestry but definitely greed. When we are asked not to trust science but instead trust politicians this gov’t is in a sorry state!
Have some sense stop these cuts. There was a time when Conservate was pro Conservation.
I’m a piping plover guardian and have been for about 6 years. I care. I am dead against all of Ford’s changes to this Act and all of his cutbacks to everything. He is detrimental to Ontario. We must all work together to fight him on this.
Will the emperor ever stop buying new clothes?
Jeff Yurik, Conservative MPP, has stated that for several years he requested accounting details from the MNRF, but was continually stonewalled. When scarce accounting details were finally provided, via a Freedom on Information request of a participating public entity, the line items did not seem to align with the roles, duties and powers of the MNRF’s mandate.
The participating public and ratepayers may agree that the performance of MNRF in fulfilling its mandate to protect Species At Risk is ineffective and misdirected. And, when picking the low-hanging fruit, when “cutting the fat”, should the PC’s be faulted for cutting funding to a ministry which arguably is unaccountable and ineffective? The P.C.’s could easily propose that such cuts are in the best interest of their constituents- the ratepayers.
As stated by Ontario Nature: “While there have been challenges in administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA), these are the result of poor government implementation, not the law itself. In her 2017 environmental protection report, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario provided a detailed analysis of this implementation and concluded that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry had “utterly failed to implement the law effectively” (p. 248). Inadequate notifications and unreasonable delays in processing permits, common complaints of industry, are examples of issues that should be addressed through improved implementation. No amendments to the statute are necessary” (1). https://ontarionature.org/endangered-species-act-review-joint-letter/
So, is it any surprise that when the Progressive Conservative party took Provincial office, that MNRF funding was cut?
However, the P.C. government’s proposal (i.e. amendments to the statute) to allow developers to, A: pay a regulatory charge instead of undertaking “some of the more onerous and lengthy requirements of a permit”; and, B: to create the “Species at Risk Conservation Trust” to manage monies toward large-scale measures to protect and recover species; seems like changing the lipstick colour on the ineffective bureaucratic pig from red to blue. The amendments are directed at satiating industry complaints for faster, less onerous development (destruction) permits – not amendments focused on the mandate of the ESA to protect Species At Risk. Constituents expect better policy decisions and representation from the newly elected P.C. government.
If the focus of the bureaucrats remains “protecting known occurrences of SAR” and “Implementing Natural Heritage”; if the Conservation Authority remains the “Conversation Authority”; and, if the Municipal, Provincial, and Federal government’s all lack the power, ability or will to enforce existing regulation, policy statements and/or plans; then we’ve all missed the point. We have, and our governance system has, failed.
If there is no forest left for a tree to fall into, is there still a debate about its potential sound?
Without improvements to the administration and implementation of the law, be it the Federal Species at Risk Act; the Provincial ESA; and, the Provincial/Municipal mandates of the Official Plan and the Provincial Policy Statement Plan, there will remain little to no justice for the marginalized, threatened, endangered or otherwise of special concern. But the taxes, fees and other charges will be collected nonetheless. Queue the “Business As Usual” phrase. We all know the dice are loaded, we all know the good guys lost, we all know the Precautionary Principal remains ignored.
With all changes in governance structures and funding allocation, the ability of the public participants’ and public servants’ efforts will be slowed, knocked-back with costly changes to departments, project hand offs like the MNRF handing over responsibilities to MECP and new media and title-changes – just like as has happened before: Ministry of Environment (MOE) to Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) to Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP); and likewise the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board (ORMB) to Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
How can an impassioned public participate in or expect to have effective and meaningful input into land use planning decisions? Especially considering that less than a year after it was established, the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre is winding down for closure – at the behest of the P.C.’s. Thus once again leaving ratepayers with “…a system that requires a lawyer and professional planner to have any chance of getting the right evidence to support the appeal”. But don’t forget, under the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal’s (LPAT) part of the Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario (ELTO), an appeal is only possible if a ruling/decision is under question. However, if there isn’t a ruling, if the rules are disregarded, then there is no means for an appeal via the LPAT process. Point being, if a Municipality choses to ignore certain requirements of the Official Plan, the Provincial Policy Statement and, say, a Natural Heritage Implementation Strategy, don’t expect LPAT to assist in righting the wrong. LPAT is a means to mediate disagreements between those trying to play by the rules. LPAT is not there to ensure the rules are followed. Get a lawyer you peasant.
Regardless, I encourage citizens to become part of the participating public; to remember that whichever colour is on the pig’s lips, the Provincial Policy Statement and the Municipal Official Plan remain in effect and that your various government representatives are supposed work in accordance with the law, policies and guiding strategies; while, working to represent their constituents concerns.
Further, remember how governance has always worked; the squeaky wheel gets the grease; the ratepayers pay and the participating public are left without justice in “…a system that requires a lawyer and professional …”. However, sometimes, with enough persistence and support, an informed participating public can direct governance.
All endangered species whether it be animals, plants or protective lands, all are of equal importance to the survival and balance of our planet. No one has the right to eliminate either. Most times, power in the wrong hands can be devastatingly dangerous!