Bill 55, Strong Action for Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2012
Ontario Rivers Alliance (ORA) is a Not-for-Profit grassroots organization with a focus on healthy river ecosystems all across Ontario. ORA members represent numerous organizations such as CPAWS -Ottawa Valley, Friends of Temagami, Paddle Canada, Whitewater Ontario, along with many stewardships, associations, and private and First Nations citizens, who have come together to ensure the rash of waterpower proposals currently going through the approvals process are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
ORA is gravely concerned with the irregular means being used to amend numerous pieces of legislation by attaching the amendments to the budget bill. This appears to be designed to circumvent the normal process of public consultation.
As Gord Miller, our Environmental Commissioner for Ontario says, “This budget bill is effectively the mother-of-all pieces of omnibus legislation. Bill 55 amends 69 different statutes in its schedules. For example, many environmentally significant laws that are administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources are proposed to be amended. These laws include the Endangered Species Act, the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, the Public Lands Act, the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, and the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act. Laws such as these are prescribed under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR). Normally, when the government proposes to amend legislation that is prescribed under the EBR, it would post a proposal notice on the Environmental Registry and solicit public comments for a minimum of 30 days. The government then considers the public comments and makes a decision. These steps help make for a transparent and accountable process.”
ORA’s position is that by presenting amendments to these 69 Acts in Budget Bill 55, the government is literally taking away its citizens’ democratic right to comment on the numerous Acts administered under the EBR, by attempting to hide the amendments within an unrelated budget bill which is conveniently exempt from EBR postings and the public consultation process. Linda Heron, Chair of ORA says, “a bold move like this undermines trust and confidence in a government that has been entrusted to represent its citizens and make decisions in our best interests.”
ORA has studied Bill 55, and a recurring statement throughout many of these amendments is “The Minister is permitted to delegate any or all of his or her duties and powers under this Act to any other person.” These same amendments also stipulate, “The Minister may impose any conditions that the Minister deems appropriate on the exercise of the powers by the delegate. Crown not liable for delegate’s acts.”
In making these provisions, it appears that the government is planning massive changes to MNR staff and responsibilities, perhaps positioning this Ministry for privatization of its approvals and permitting process, and likely even to give developers the power of self-regulation. If this is true, it does not bode well for our environment and natural resources’ oversight and protection, and this government would be depriving Ontarians of the opportunity to be consulted and to provide comments on such a major and important move. “It also appears that the Crown will not be liable for any of its delegate’s actions – so who will be responsible then”, says Heron.
The government’s first priority must be, “the betterment of the people of the whole or any part of Ontario by providing for the protection, conservation and wise management in Ontario of the environment.”
ORA is requesting that:
1. All amendments to Acts be removed from Bill 55 unless directly pertaining to the budget;
2. Any plans to move further into a self-regulating, proponent led process be posted on the EBR Registry for public consultation and input;
3. Any plans to change MNR responsibilities and mandate must be posted on the EBR Registry to go through a public consultation and comment process; and
4. All amendments to Acts administered under the Environmental Bill of Rights be registered on the EBR Registry for public consultation and comment.
There have already been enough challenges with the current proponent led process, without the government indulging for-profit corporations in an even more streamlined, user-friendly, check-box style, self-regulating system where there are few to no barriers to getting these proposals up and running quickly. There are numerous negative impacts associated with these hydroelectric proposals, and streamlining the process even further will only serve to place these environments that are already struggling with climate change and overdevelopment, at even greater risk.
The government has effectively placed the fox in charge of the chicken coop, and it now appears ready to throw the doors wide open.
Please contact the Premier and ask that he withdraw the Amendments to the 69 Acts included in Bill 55, Strong Action for Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2012, and also contact the NDP, PC & GPO parties to request they reject the Amendments to the 69 Acts included in Bill 55:
Dalton McGuinty, Premier: DMcGuinty.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-387-5559
NDP: http://www.ondpcaucus.com/yoursay/index.php#form or call 1-855-668-2348
PC: http://www.ontariopc.com/contact-us/ or call 1-800-903-6453
GPO: http://www.gpo.ca/contact or call 1-888-647-3366
For more information contact Linda Heron, ORA Chair, at (705) 866-1677, or by email at LindaH@OntarioRiversAlliance.ca ORA Website: www.OntarioRiversAlliance.ca