The government is failing to follow through on all of its environmental promises, says Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller. “This government rightly prides itself on the progress it has made in passing legislation to protect the environment,” says Miller, “but actions on the ground often undermine it.”
In his 2009/2010 Annual Report released on Wednesday, Miller points to a number of cases where bureaucratic or political inaction has ended up threatening the environment and undermining the government’s stated environmental policies. In the water arena, the report found that the Ministry of the Environment has failed to keep an up-to-date inventory of closed landfills that could be polluting nearby groundwater. It also said that municipal wastewater discharges are worsening the pollution of our Great Lakes because the Ministry of Environment’s discharge rules fail to factor in the rapidly increasing population of southern Ontario.
Miller also pinpointed the Province for allowing “provincially significant” wetlands to be drained. “We found that landowners in Ottawa used the Drainage Act to undermine provincial policies protecting provincially significant wetlands found on their property,” says Miller. “The City of Ottawa and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing failed to designate a portion of a provincially significant wetland in the city of Ottawa’s official plan because some landowners requested that the area become a municipal drain.”
In 2005, the Ministry of Natural Resources proposed adding 20 additional parcels of wetlands to the provincially significant Goulbourn Wetland Complex, in the City of Ottawa. Under the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement, that is just a first step, says Miller. The municipality also has to designate the wetland in its official plan, before the classification is final.
The Environmental Commissioner also says Ontarians need to develop a new approach to conservation, or face the significant consequences of climate change and biodiversity loss. Miller says “current policies have already degraded the environment in the long-term and significantly compromised the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We must make do with less, and use what we have more wisely. This is not a choice for us but a reality imposed by the world we have created.”
The chapters cited above and the entire 2009/2010 Annual Report can be found here.