Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights has been seriously entrenched in Ontario environmental circles for many years. It provides an invaluable tool for Ontario’s citizens, to allow them to be notified of upcoming decisions, legislation, instruments or other environmental issues that the government is moving forward with. The Bill was designed to allow citizens to provide their comments and input to the government of Ontario with respect to environmental issues under consideration. The Bill was designed to allow citizens to participate in certain environmental decisions and was used as the principal way in which many organizations sought to be notified of new projects and comment on them.
With the flurry of activity and legislation in response to COVID-19 in March and April of this year, the Ontario government modified or suspended several important pieces of legislation. One of the important pieces was the Environmental Bill of Rights.
The government’s suspension of the Environmental Bill of Rights came as a shock to many environmental proponents. The government attempted to persuade these proponents that the approval process which had been modified, cancelled or suspended was restricted only to urgent COVID projects. However, the clear wording of the legislation was otherwise and the suspension was widely viewed as much broader, allowing wholesale ignoring of the Environmental Bill of Rights.
The suspension of the Environmental Bill of Rights had the effect of eliminating publication and the public’s rights to comment on significant environmental issues. Several noteworthy examples were the governments’ long awaited legislative attempts to manage excess soils from sites, especially where samples were contaminated. The first phase of this legislation was to have come into force on July 1st but with the suspension of the Environmental Bill of Rights, this legislation was suspended until January of 2021.
The net effect of Ontario’s suspension of the Environmental Bill of Rights was to completely obliterate the approval process for several important areas such as greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum and other toxic remediation timetables. Similarly greenhouse gas reporting requirements were relaxed making the reporting of these emissions uncertain and difficult to enforce.
As a result of the government’s move, numerous environmental organizations and NGOs lobbied the government to reverse its position so as to allow notification of and participation in important environmental decisions.
The response to the government on this issue was substantial and accordingly the government recently passed O.Reg 115/20 reinstating the publication and the corresponding right to comment on important environmental provisions. Many of these organizations were particularly concerned, given the unilateral and arbitrary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and reduction in reporting requirements for the petroleum industry.
Once again thanks to the diligence of the numerous environmental proponents and NGOs, Ontario enjoys the right to be advised as to what steps are being taken with respect to environmental matters and corresponding right to participate in decisions and comment on them.