Media Release: Environmentalists Demand that Ontario Government Withdraw its Proposed Elimination of the Province’s Independent Environmental Watchdog

Media Release

Dec 03 2018

Toronto – Today the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), Ontario Nature, Friends of the Porcupine River Watershed, and the retired Deputy Environmental Commissioner of Ontario will testify before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs to call upon the provincial government to immediately withdraw its controversial Schedule 15 of Bill 57.

This Schedule proposes to wholly eliminate the independent Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), and to transfer some – but not all – of the ECO’s existing duties to the Environment Minister and the Auditor General.

“Since Bill 57 was first tabled two weeks ago, thousands of concerned Ontarians and leading environmental groups have emailed and petitioned Premier Ford to retain the current ECO,” said Theresa McClenaghan, CELA Executive Director and Counsel. “In our view, this public pushback underscores the need for the government to withdraw Schedule 15.”

Established under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR), the ECO is currently an independent officer of the Ontario Legislature. The ECO files detailed annual and special reports with the Legislature to advise on whether the provincial government is adequately safeguarding the environment and complying with the EBR’s legal requirements. The ECO also files detailed annual reports on energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions.

“In our view, the ECO’s legislative independence is critical since it enables the Commissioner to explain directly to MPPs, to the public and to the media what is going on with Ontario’s air, water and other natural resources. Unfortunately, this independence will be lost if the Commissioner becomes merely an employee of the Auditor General, as proposed by Bill 57,” said CELA lawyer Richard Lindgren.

“Currently, the Commissioner also has the independence and discretion to issue special reports at any time if the situation merits. These reports are important early warnings of problems,” added Mr. Lindgren. “However, we would lose special reports by the ECO if Bill 57 is passed.”

“Independent oversight of the environment is vital to the reputation of any 21st century economy. Ontario’s business community would lose if this bill went through,” said Ellen Schwartzel, who served as the Deputy Environmental Commissioner of Ontario from 2013 to her retirement in 2018. “Rural Ontarians would also lose disproportionately, since many threats to air and water happen on their front doors.”

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For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Theresa McClenaghan (416-960-2284, ext. 7219); Ellen Schwartzel (647-463-5562); Richard Lindgren (613-385-1686)