For immediate release April 7, 2020
Toronto – The Ford government has used the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to pass a regulation that effectively suspends public consultation under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).
Though some public consultation exemptions may be entirely reasonable and good public health policy, Ecojustice lawyers and scientists are alarmed by the regulation, which is the latest in a series of moves the Ford government has made to dismantle environmental protection in Ontario.
The regulation amounts to a far-reaching assault on Ontario’s environmental standards and procedures for the protection of clean air, clean water, land and wildlife from environmental effects of forestry, mining, energy generation, oil refining, chemical manufacturing, and other industries.
Since it came into effect in 1994, the EBR has enabled Ontarians to participate in government decision-making that might affect the environment. Among other things, it requires the Ontario government to:
- inform the public about decisions, and events that could affect the environment including changes to provincial policy, laws, or licenses that are “environmentally significant”, and to refrain from making any change without first consulting Ontarians openly; and
- ensure that any such decisions have first considered how the purposes of the EBR are being applied consistent with the “Statements of Environmental Values” (SEVs) of certain ministries.
This regulation comes on the heel of other sweeping changes to Ontario’s environmental laws, made before the outbreak of COVID-19, that have substantially reduced environmental protection, transparency and accountability in the province.
Robert Wright, Ecojustice lawyer and a former Vice-Chair of the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal says:
“At a time when government transparency and communication is more essential than ever, Premier Ford has moved to gut public participation under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.
“No one would criticize temporary measures that are legitimately related to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. But it certainly appears that the Ontario government is exploiting this moment to further erode Ontario’s environmental laws and limit the public’s role in environmental policy-making. We urge the government to withdraw or revise the regulation so that it clearly only targets government environmental proposals that are reasonably COVID-19 related.
Since 1994, the EBR has enabled Ontarians to participate in government decision-making that might affect the environment. Ontario Regulation 115/20 came into force at the beginning of April 2020. It exempts proposals for Acts, policies, regulations and instruments from Part II of the EBR, which provides for “Public Participation in Government Decision-Making”. This means that the Ontario government does not need to consult the public on such proposals no matter how “environmentally significant” they may be. Further, the government has turned its back on the environment as its ministries are now not required to consider their own SEVs when making decisions that might significantly affect the environment.
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.