“Today marks the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking day when Ontario enacted its Environmental Bill of Rights, officially granting citizens the right to participate in decisions that affect our environment. I want to offer sincere gratitude to the architects who cemented the right to a healthy environment into Ontario law.
The Environmental Bill of Rights holds the government to account on how its decisions impact our air, water, land, and future. It gives citizens the right to be notified and consulted on such decisions, and even to request appeals or investigations when environmental laws are broken.
What has made the Environmental Bill of Rights strong for 25 years it that an Independent Officer of the Legislature has overseen its enforcement, thus freeing it from political meddling by the government-of-the-day. The Ford government changed all of this with Bill 57, setting the stage for the closure of the office and the transfer of many of its powers to the Ministry of the Environment. In many ways, the fox is now in charge of the henhouse.
This has me worried.
It has me worried because the government now has more power to conceal information, to ignore public opinion, and to make politically motivated decisions that harm our environment.
Take, for example, the decision to cancel climate action. The public consultation drew 11,000 comments, of which just 1% supported an end to pollution pricing. Ford ignored the people and dismantled Ontario’s pollution pricing system.
The loss of our independent Environmental Commissioner puts us in a worse position to hold the Ford government accountable on this issue or any future government accountable on environmental issues that affect you and your community. Your rights are being taken away.
Our environmental challenges are coming sharply into focus. Everyday we learn more about the climate crisis on our doorstep, whether it’s more frequent and extreme flooding or plummeting insect and caribou populations or more frequent and severe ice storms.
While awareness of our environmental challenges is at an all-time high, we have a Premier who delights in being hostile to solutions. Just yesterday he said that his election was “like Christmas coming to industries.” This is a troubling statement. We can’t have a prosperous economy without a healthy environment.
As we ring in 25 years of the Environmental Bill of Rights, I’m asking the public to keep up the pressure on the Ford government, to continue standing up for the places we love.
Last month we won a huge victory when the government caved on its threat to open the Greenbelt for development. It will take the same determination to resist whatever threat to our environmental rights comes next.”