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REMARKS - Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2011/2012 Annual Report, Part 2 - Losing Our Touch

Tuesday, October 2nd 2012 10:00:11am

Legislative Media Studio, Queen's Park
10:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Check Against Delivery

There are some positive developments to report in this Part 2 of our Annual Report to the Legislature. We have some improvements in fisheries management and MNR has even discovered in Algonquin Park a surviving population of a species of fish thought extinct. Fire management in parks has a better plan. With some caveats I acknowledge that there are somewhat better wind turbine rules to protect birds and bats and the MTO's new transit-supportive planning guidelines are an improvement. However, after those points are listed my ability to praise government accomplishments in the environmental field gets a bit limited.

In this reporting period we saw no bold new legislation to tackle the challenges of our time. The business of government went on a more modest scale but it could hardly be said to go well. This report is full of examples of stumbles and retreats in the implementation of programs and initiatives that were seemingly well conceived and used to work acceptably. In Part 1 of this Report, previously tabled, I documented the failures of various ministries to meet their statutory process obligations under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993. And, here in Part 2, I report to the Legislature on the strange changes to the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program, which seems to anticipate the farming of our wild birds and animals. I am at a loss to explain the reasoning behind the "bait & switch" approach used when the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) posted a proposal to give farmers relief from restrictions on haying related to Eastern Meadowlark, and then issued a decision that gave residential developers a broad exemption from restrictions in the Endangered Species Act, 2007 relating to both the meadowlark and the bobolink. Neither do I understand how MNR can completely fail to implement something as critical as the Provincial Wildlife Monitoring Program. Or, similarly, I question how the Ministry of the Environment can confirm to people they are being adversely affected by industrial dust emissions and then allow the problem to persist for years. Yet again, the government has tinkered with the Low Water Response Plan but we remain without the timely ability to respond to increasingly frequent droughts which threaten our aquatic ecosystems, water supplies and food crops.

The business of protecting our environment and natural resources used to be a much more routine process that largely ran smoothly. I don’t know why even seemingly simple policy and program delivery has so many associated problems. I have identified the lack of resource capacity in key ministries in the past as at least part of the problem, but the current foibles, fumbles and retreats point to problems beyond capacity constraints. Perhaps we are just losing our touch.