Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks needs play a leadership role when it comes to supporting, promoting, and administering the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR Act). Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk came to this conclusion in her 2020 Annual Report of Environmental Value-for-Money Audits and the Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights.
The report found examples by multiple government ministries of non-compliance with their responsibilities under the EBR Act that prevented its effective operation in 2019/20. The report states some ministries are still not posting environmentally significant proposals on the Environmental Registry or giving the public enough time to respond when they do.
“The ministries have an obligation to embrace this legislation and include Ontarians in the decision-making process,” said Lysyk. “The EBR is critical in ensuring meaningful public participation and better decisions affecting the environment.”
The report shows a number of issues that all led to ministries’ compliance with the EBR worsening in 2019/20. These issues include:
- Not giving the public ample time to respond to complex proposals.
- Not updating Registry notices or notifying the public of decisions in a timely manner.
- Insufficient information and not enough time given to Ontarians to comment on commercial forestry management changes that affect protections for endangered species.
The Auditor General also concluded the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks put in place an overly broad temporary exemption to the EBR’s public consultation requirements—created to help the province respond rapidly to COVID-19 issues. The report says the exemption had the effect of bypassing Ontarians’ right to request permission to appeal decisions for 197 environmentally significant permits and approvals that were unrelated to the pandemic.
“Given that the Environmental Bill of Rights has been with us for 26 years, the level of non-compliance by ministries is surprising,” said the Auditor General. “We strongly encourage the ministries to be more diligent in this regard.”
The Auditor General’s report made a total of 57 recommendations.