Groups allege Ontario government’s failure to consult public prior to sweeping legislative changes is “pattern of illegal conduct”
TORONTO, ONT./TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE HURON-WENDAT, THE ANISHNAABEG, HAUDENOSAUNEE, CHIPPEWAS AND THE MISSISSAUGAS OF THE CREDIT FIRST NATION –
Environmental groups are in court this Monday to challenge the Ford government’s failure to consult with Ontarians before steamrolling through major changes to the province’s environmental laws with Bill 197, also known as the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act.
Ecojustice, on behalf of Greenpeace Canada and Wilderness Committee, will argue that in doing so, the Ford government has unlawfully ignored the voices of Ontarians before ramming through major changes to environmental assessments and planning laws.
In July 2020, in the space of just two weeks, the Ontario government tabled and passed Bill 197. The law made major changes to the province’s Environmental Assessment Act, the Planning Act, and other laws essential for maintaining a clean and healthy environment for all Ontarians.
Bill 197 severely restricts the types of projects subject to comprehensive environmental assessment and public consultation. It excludes major undertakings like municipal sewage treatment plants and highways under 75 km, such as the proposed Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 projects. In some cases, communities may not be aware that a project is happening until shovels are already in the ground.
The Ford government did not consult with the public prior to passing Bill 197 into law. Under the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights, the people of Ontario have the right to be heard and consulted before any major changes are made to environmental laws. The consequences of Bill 197’s legislative changes are now causing conflict in communities across Ontario – for example in the government’s freer use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) to greenlight controversial development projects.
The environmental groups bringing the suit allege that this behaviour by the government now forms a “pattern of illegal conduct.” In a 2019 ruling by the Ontario Divisional Court, a court majority agreed that Doug Ford’s decision to scrap the province’s carbon cap-and-trade program without public consultation was unlawful.
Ian Miron, Ecojustice lawyer, said:
“The Ford government broke the law when it failed to consult the public on changes introduced by Bill 197.
“This is part of a repeated pattern of behaviour by the provincial government. From the unlawful scrapping of cap and trade, to pushing through unwanted developments using ministerial zoning orders, this government has repeatedly pushed an anti-environment agenda while cutting Ontarians out of the decision-making process.”
Priyanka Vittal, Legal counsel for Greenpeace Canada, said:
“Time and again we’ve seen Doug Ford’s government limit public participation to drive through his ideologically-driven agenda. Ontarians are now living the consequences of Ford’s disregard for public opinion, expert advice and scientific evidence.
“But whether Doug Ford likes it or not, the laws of this province require his government to consult Ontarians before making changes that impact our environment. His government’s failure to do so is illegal. So we’re saying enough is enough. Doug Ford’s government must answer for its actions in court.”
Katie Krelove, Ontario campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, said:
“People are waking up to how destructive Bill 197 really is. The Ford government fast tracking developments on wetlands with Ministerial Zoning Orders and reduced environmental assessments for harmful new highways are two recent examples.”
“The underhanded ways the Ford government has gone about pushing forward its anti-environmental agenda spits in the face of the public. Right now what’s important for Ontarians is transparency. Taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to sneak through deregulation for development and industry without public consultation shows how completely two-faced this government is.”
- On the same day it published Bill 197, the Ontario government posted a “bulletin” and decision notice on the environmental registry indicating that it would not consult on the major changes to environmental assessment law. Instead, it would rely on an anticipated, but not yet enacted, new provision in the Environmental Bill of Rights that would deem public consultation requirements under the Bill did not apply. It did not explain its failure to consult on environmentally important changes to other laws.
- But that clause was not in place when Bill 197 was passed through the legislature, and in any case did not apply to changes made in Bill 197 to other important laws, like the Planning Act.
- Ontario’s minister of environment ignored his legal duty to consult with Ontarians before introducing a major change to the province’s laws.
Ecojustice uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment. Its strategic, public interest lawsuits and advocacy lead to precedent-setting court decisions and law and policy 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.
Greenpeace Canada is an independent campaigning organization, which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force the solutions which are essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace’s goal is to ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity.
Wilderness Committee protects life-giving biological diversity in Canada through strategic research, community mobilizing and grassroots public education. As the people powered wilderness preservation group, we unite 60,000 supporters, volunteers and activists from coast to coast to coast, working together to preserve wilderness, protect wildlife, defend parks, safeguard public resources and fight for a stable and healthy climate. We have offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg and Toronto.