In its rush to cut “red tape” and ensure Ontario is “open-for-business,” the Government of Ontario is taking a sledge hammer to our environment laws and policies.
First it cancelled cap-and-trade, designed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and meet internationally agreed-upon targets to address climate change. Then it dismantled the office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Next it introduced Bill 66, aimed at providing, through Schedule 10, a means for developers to do an end run around protections for water, farmland, natural heritage and species at risk. Though widespread public outcry convinced the government to abandon Schedule 10, it is seeking alternative means to the same end through amendments to both the Provincial Policy Statement and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. And of course, Bill 66 is still going forward; if passed it will repeal the Toxics Reduction Act, 2009, the cornerstone of Ontario’s strategy to reduce the use and creation of toxic substances.
That’s a lot of damage in a very short time. But there’s more to come.
The Endangered Species Act is Next
In January, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) announced that it is reviewing the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA). Though the review ostensibly is to “enable positive outcomes for species at risk,” the overall thrust of the ministry’s proposals is to reduce “administrative burdens” and “barriers to economic development.” In other words, the open-for-business mantra prevails at the expense of the natural world.
Among the options MECP is asking the public to consider:
Abandoning the mandatory protection of species and their habitats by opening the door to “ministerial discretion” to remove or delay protections;
Undercutting the current science-based listing of species at risk;
Watering down legislated timelines for planning and implementation; and
Lessening requirements to compensate for the damage done by industry and developers undertaking harmful activities.
What Does This Mean for Endangered Species?
Such changes would certainly make it easier to bulldoze and pave over the habitats of Ontario’s most vulnerable plants and animals. But it’s hard to imagine how these changes could do anything to improve their chances for recovery.
It’s time to call the government’s bluff. If MECP really wants to provide “stringent protections” for species at risk, it could begin by applying its sledge hammer to the long list of ESA exemptions for harmful activities associated with forestry, mining, hydro, aggregates, wind facilities, infrastructure development and commercial development that have already weakened the act. According to the Environmental Commissioner, these exemptions have resulted in many more harmful activities and much less protection being provided, all with reduced government authority and oversight.
And while it’s at it, MECP could also strengthen the ESA to ensure that exemptions are never again contemplated if they jeopardize the recovery of an endangered or threatened species.
Say ‘No’ to Deregulation
The government’s rash, short-sighted fixation on environmental deregulation serves no-one’s long-term interests, not even those of business. A healthy economy depends on a healthy environment – a fundamental truth to which many in government play lip service, but little more.
That’s why the rest of us need to force their hand. The power of the people – let’s use it remind our government that we all have an interest in protecting the natural world. As Dr. Justina Ray succinctly states in her insightful opinion editorial, “it is not just the survival of wildlife that is at stake here — it is ours as well.”
Send a message to Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Rod Phillips, urging him not to weaken protections for species at risk.
Anne Bell has been directing Ontario Nature’s conservation and education programs since 2007. She loves to go birding, camping, swimming, and skiing and to play hockey with her husband and two young daughters, Kestrel and Castilleja.