“Ontario has lost momentum” states Environmental Commissioner

MNR Fishing
photo from Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
THUNDER BAY – Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner is worried that Ontario has lost momentum when it comes to the province’s pressing environmental issues. In his 2010/2011 Annual Report “Engaging Solutions” released today, Gord Miller says there’s no shortage of talk about the problems such as climate change, waste diversion, and the loss of biodiversity. “But when it comes to doing something” says Miller, “there doesn’t seem to be a lot actually happening.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment were also raised as special concerns. The Environmental Commissioner states, “Capacities are stretched dangerously thin at the two ministries mandated to protect Ontario’s environment and natural resources. This warning was issued today by Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, as he released his 2010/2011 Annual Report.

“Research has found that at a time when their core businesses have become more complex, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources have to make do with less. Compared to budgets in the early 1990s, MNR has suffered a 22 per cent decline in its operating budget after accounting for inflation, while MOE’s operating budget was cut by 45 per cent”.

The Environmental Commissioner cited a number of examples of this lack of action in his annual report:

– On waste, the Ministry of the Environment has written four different reports and discussion papers outlining options for increasing waste diversion in the province. But this has resulted in little action on what Miller says should be one of the government’s top environmental priorities.

– On species-at-risk, the Ministry of Natural Resources is not doing enough to protect and recover species at risk. Much of what the ministry is doing has become an empty bureaucratic exercise that does little on-the-ground to tangibly benefit endangered species.

– On funding, the Government of Ontario has passed notable legislation such as the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, the Endangered Species Act, 2007 and the Green Energy Act, 2009, but has not given the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment the additional resources they need to oversee and monitor new legislation while also covering their previous core responsibilities.

– On the Great Lakes, lengthy negotiations between Ontario and the federal government threaten to paralyze progress towards further clean-up, and Ontario is allowing its existing policy tools to idle. Meantime, the Obama administration has promised $2.2 billion over 5 years.

Miller says this lack of action is not accidental: it’s actually the goal of critics of environmental protection. “We respond to people who say they don’t believe there’s a problem”, says the Environmental Commissioner, “by going back to the research findings to debate and explain it all over again. And then, when it looks like progress is being made, others say the proposed solutions won’t work, or are too costly. And so we go back to the beginning again.”

“We have to find a way to get to a point of action on these issues” says the Environmental Commissioner. “We don’t see ourselves as having a culture of inaction and procrastination. Yet that would be a fair criticism from any impartial observer.”

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is appointed by the Legislative Assembly to be the province’s independent environmental watchdog, reporting publicly on the government’s environmental decision making.