On June 4, 2012, Ontario Nature will be supporting a national campaign called Black Out Speak Out. On this day, environmental organizations and other supporters across the country will darken their websites in protest against efforts to silence Canadians who speak up in defence of environmental protection.
This campaign is in reaction to the federal government’s budget implementation bill (Bill C-38), which contains a jaw-dropping range of amendments to environmental legislation that are entirely unrelated to fiscal matters.
Now, consider a similar budget bill, introduced by the provincial government here in Ontario. This is Bill-55, and it, too, includes a list of amendments to laws governing environmental protection, many of which will have a profoundly negative impact on conservation efforts.
Specifically, the Liberal government is proposing changes that will seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will undermine key protective measures originally written to keep plants, animals and ecosystems from disappearing from Ontario altogether. Other changes will negatively impact the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.
Moreover, hiding these kinds of amendments in a budget bill sidesteps the public’s right to participate in proposed changes to environmental laws. Normal procedure is that environmental amendments are posted under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) registry for comment. We might not exercise this right often, but the fact is that each of us can make a submission regarding a suggested alteration to the rules determining what happens to our shared natural environment.
We object to the amendments in the budget bill that will strike at the heart of the ESA and provincial parks legislation. The Liberal government should stand by its own legislation.
And we object to the Province’s approach, circumventing the EBR. The EBR was created in 1993 because the government of the day recognized that all of us have a right to a healthy environment. We still have that right and we are asking Queen’s Park to recognize it.
Victoria Foote was Ontario Nature's director of communications and editor of ON Nature magazine.