Environmental groups write to minister urging time for public consultation on environmental assessment changes
For immediate release: July 17, 2020
TORONTO – Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity, says the public must have an opportunity to consider and weigh in on Ontario’s Bill 197 (COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act) before it is made law.
To speed the passage of the bill, the Ontario government has included a clause in the bill to retroactively exempt itself from the right of Ontarians to comment on environmentally significant legislation prior to third reading.
Given the bill’s widespread impact, which includes major changes to environmental assessments in Ontario, Ecojustice says the Ontario government must allow at least 45 days for public comment on the bill and give Ontarians the opportunity to fully understand the impact of the bill.
Ecojustice, along with other environmental organizations, has written to Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek, asking his department to allow at least 45 days for public comments.
Laura Bowman, Ecojustice lawyer said:
“This legislation is the latest in a series of attacks on environmental oversight in Ontario. Proposed changes to environmental assessment would exempt projects such as highways, sewage treatment expansion and removal of bike infrastructure from environmental assessment – denying the public an opportunity to express their voice and opinions. The bill would also remove public rights of appeal for flawed environmental assessments.
“The government’s actions demonstrate an unprecedented attempt to override public consultation on an omnibus bill that has far-reaching implications for the public’s involvement in environmental assessments and sustainable development.
“In any democracy, it is essential that people are allowed the opportunity to participate in decisions about their environment. Now, in some cases, communities across Ontario may not know a project is happening until shovels are in the ground.
“Ecojustice has written to Minister Jeff Yurek requesting adequate time for the public to be informed and consulted before Bill 197 is passed.”
In early July the Ontario government tabled Bill 197 for first reading. The legislation, an omnibus bill, shifts how major public sector infrastructure projects are assessed in the province. Instead of major projects usually being subject to some form of assessment, an EA will only be deployed on specifically-listed projects. The legalization will also remove the public’s right of appeal on streamlined EAs.
Environmental assessments have been one of the primary means of sustainable development and public participation in major project decision-making since the 1970s. If passed, this bill will impact people across Ontario and leave them without a voice and in the dark, about projects happening in their own communities.
Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to Canada’s most urgent environmental problems. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice operates offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.