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Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s – 2007/08 Annual Report

Ontario’s EA Process is Broken:

In his 2007-2008 Annual Report, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Gord Miller, stated: “Ontario’s EA process is broken,”(p.28) and that, “a no decision is not a possible outcome” (p. 42).  Since then, little has been done to address this issue.

A No Decision is Not a Possible Outcome:

Under the Class EA process, public concerns abound. A “no” decision is not a possible outcome. The ministry can only elevate the status of the project to an individual EA or impose conditions. Frustrated members of the public invoke the available appeal mechanism (a request for a “bump-up” to an individual EA, also known as a “Part II Order”) about 60 to 70 times in a typical year, but to the ECO’s knowledge, the ministry has not granted one such request. The minister does, in some cases, respond to bump-up requests by imposing conditions on proponents. But the conditions are often soft measures, such as additional consultation through liaison committees, rather than what is most sorely needed: stronger mitigation requirements.(p-42)

Streamlining at the Expense of an Evaluative Approach

“This strong bias towards streamlining at the expense of an evaluative approach stands in stark contrast to the original vision of the EAA. The fact that MOE failed to give the public the usual right to comment on this particular streamlining provision is of further concern…….This case raises some larger questions. What is the point of a Class EA evaluation, if other approvals and decisions have already set the stage to proceed?  And how could this process possibly lead to ‘No’ as a decision?” (P-43)

The Neglected Principle of “Betterment”

“The EAA’s purpose remains “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.” But observers may be forgiven for asking how much “betterment” the EA process really provides, over and above what can be routinely provided through approvals under other legislation, such as the Environmental Protection Act. The problem is that MOE has been very hesitant to support EA approval conditions that venture beyond the minimum status quo standards set out in other environmental legislation.” (P-45)

Discredited Consultation Processes:

In this same report, our ECO also refers to “discredited consultation processes”, where he “regularly hears from members of the public who find EA consultation processes unduly complex and opaque. They find the system weighted in favour of proponents, and are frustrated by MOE’s evident inability or unwillingness to insist on fairness in consultation and in process. A frequent concern is the public’s inability to access key documents and technical studies in a timely manner. MOE has also provided very little in the way of user guides or fact sheets to help EA ‘novices’ get up to speed quickly on the jargon and the many nuanced rules of EA consultation.” (P-46)

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