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Enough is Enough Op Ed from Gord Miller

In Bradford West Gwillimbury
Jan 21st, 2022

Former Environmental Commissioner says time to stop Ford’s dismantling of environmental protections.

By Gord Miller

The time has come to put the brakes on the Ford governments rampant dismantling of the environmental laws, policies, and approvals that have protected Ontario for 50 years.

This system was meticulously built up – begun by Progressive Conservative governments – to assure the orderly growth of our economy and our infrastructure while minimizing environmental damage and maintaining a social license for development. The system has served us well and made Ontario successful and wealthy while avoiding major environmental failures.

But this system has been under attack by this government for some time. Frequent insults to our planning system – including a blizzard of Leter-rip Ministers Zoning Orders – have been accumulating recently. Matters have come to a head in the governments abandoning of all prudence, wisdom, and caution in a mad rush to begin construction of the Bradford Bypass highway before the June provincial election.

The Bradford Bypass is a 16 km, four to six-lane freeway that would cross 28 waterways in the headwaters of Lake Simcoe, and would bisect one of the Greenbelt’s largest and most important wetlands, the Holland Marsh.

Many outstanding concerns about this project have not been fully and properly addressed. They include endangered species habitat, fisheries impacts, and water quality and stormwater management in the already stressed Lake Simcoe watershed.

Despite these issues, the government has exempted the highway from Ontarios Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). As a result construction of portions of the road are scheduled to commence before various impact studies are completed or approvals are considered or issued.

This violates one of the fundamental tenants of sensible environmental planning: you dont break ground on a project until you have done the work to know what the environmental consequences will be.

The other major matter that this government action threatens is the publics right to consultation and participation in significant environmental decisions.

The Ford government has shown a propensity to avoid hearing what the public has to say. Something highlighted by the recent Auditor General’s report. And, it disbanded the Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario whose primary role was to assure that such public participation occurs.

More recently it ignored the public notification and consultation requirements for major changes enacted by a bill that degraded forestry management among other legislative changes. In that case, Earthroots (an environment group I Chair) and others had to sue the government in Divisional Court to get a ruling that they had indeed violated the Environmental Bill of Rights.

In the case of the Bradford Bypass, the EAA exemption means that full public notification and consultation will not occur on many aspects until the project is well underway, if at all.

The purpose of the Environmental Assessment Act is the betterment of the people … of Ontario by providing for the protection, conservation, and wise management in Ontario of the environment.”

Thats how environmental planning is intended to be done in Ontario. Thats largely how it has been successfully done for 50 years. Clearly the rushing of the Bradford Bypass, by proceeding under an exemption from the law, reneges on that commitment.

There is, unfortunately, no further recourse in the provincial regulatory system for Ontarians that believe that their government has abandoned the betterment of the people.”

But there is an option at the federal level of government. A coalition of citizens groups has petitioned the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Hon. Steven Guilbeault, to designate this project under the federal Impact Assessment Act and implement a full and complete review.

There are plenty of outstanding issues falling under the federal jurisdictions like fisheries, endangered species, and migratory birds. And, there are legitimate concerns like greenhouse gas emissions and First Nations consultation.

It is time for the Federal Government to step in and do the job that the Province wont do.

Gord Miller is the Chair of Earthroots Canada. He was the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario from 2000 to 2015.

Read the article here

Read a letter to the editor from BarrieToday here

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