Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk tabled a scathing annual report on environmental issues this week, blasting the Province once again for failing to do the bare minimum to fight climate change or protect the environment.
According to Lysyk, Ontario’s government is failing to protect natural spaces and endangered species, ignoring critical climate change promises and targets, refusing to respect Ontarians’ right to participate in environmental decisions, and failing to properly track and measure biodiversity in protected areas.
Her report pointed out that Ontario’s failure to take any action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings could make their promised climate targets – a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 – impossible to achieve. This is an understatement to say the least.
When it comes to climate change, this government has axed practically every climate program in Ontario, taken the federal government to court to block climate action, violated the Constitution with their misleading carbon tax stickers, and failed to deliver on any elements of their Environment Plan intended to significantly reduce emissions. Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions actually increased in 2018, the same year this government took power, after nearly a decade of declining emissions. It’s clear that, as Lysyk points out, they will have to ramp up action significantly on promises like reducing natural gas consumption in buildings to have a hope of reversing these growing emissions. The government’s current track record suggests that is unlikely to happen, even with a renewed Environment Plan expected by the end of 2020.
The Ontario government has also routinely flouted the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), side-stepping the EBR a whopping 197 times during the pandemic without justification, removing the right of Ontarians to appeal projects that could impact them. These 197 permits and approvals would allow industrial plants to pollute the air and water, allow companies to pump or remove water from the ground and lakes and rivers in communities across Ontario. This is more evidence that this government views the environment as nothing more than “red tape” that should be cut.
The audit also found that the Environment Ministry and the Natural Resources Ministry are not doing what is necessary to protect biodiversity in Ontario’s provincial parks, conservation reserves and other protected areas, particularly in the south of the province where biodiversity is most at risk. Inadequate staffing at the Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is making it impossible to prevent or even properly assess harm from invasive species, hunting and fishing in these vital areas, which are supposed to be protected. She also called out the Province for inappropriately opening multiple wilderness areas to commercial logging and mining. The impacts on protected areas identified by the Auditor General will only worsen as Ontario moves to kneecap Conservation Authorities so developers can build warehouses on wetlands.
This year’s Auditor General report confirms that Ontario’s promises to protect and preserve our environment are hollow. The Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan has been sitting on a shelf gathering dust, while this government ignores its promised actions to fight climate change, protect green spaces and endangered species, and follow the legal duty to include Ontarians in the decision-making process for major environmental legislation.
Stayed tuned for a new report from Environmental Defence that looks both at the province’s lack of action on reducing greenhouse gas emission and the missed opportunity thus far to build back better in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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