Letter to: Mike Harris Regarding: Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

Title: Letter to: Mike Harris Regarding: Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
Resource Type: Letter
Date authored: September 10, 1999
Author/s: Canadian Environmental Law Association and 46 Signatory Organizations
Author Organization: Canadian Environmental Law Association

September 10, 1999

(An Open Letter to Premier Mike Harris and Environment Minister Tony Clement from the undersigned organizations)
Premier Michael HarrisQueen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario
c.c. Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of the EnvironmentRE: OFFICE OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSIONER OF ONTARIO

Dear Premier Harris:

As environment, conservation and community organizations from across Ontario working in the public interest, we are proud of the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) and the Office of the Environmental Commissioner, which monitors compliance with the EBR and helps the public understand the EBR. The Environmental Bill of Rights and the Environmental Commissioner play invaluable roles in ensuring what all Ontarians want — a clean and healthy environment. We have noted with alarm and concern recent media reports in which government officials have stated to the media that the Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario might not be retained. Those reports state that the government is considering rolling the functions of the Environmental Commissioner into the office of the Ombudsman. The Office of the Environmental Commissioner fulfills an essential function in Ontario. As an Officer of the Legislature, the Environmental Commissioner provides an objective non-partisan report as to government’s compliance with the EBR. Furthermore, environmental protection is one of the most fundamental concerns of Ontario citizens. An Officer whose exclusive focus is on the EBR is absolutely necessary both for efficiency of delivery of this essential government service and as a measure of the seriousness with which the Province takes its environmental responsibilities. Environmental issues are frequently complex and controversial. Decisions involve diverse and often competing points of view. Difficult decisions often need to be made in the face of scientific uncertainty. Under such circumstances, value judgements and political decisions get made. Given these realities, it is inherently undemocratic for such decision-making to be out of the public eye. Experience has shown that public participation time and time again leads to better environmental decision making. To ensure the continued improvement of public participation in environmental decision making, the Environmental Commissioner’s Office exercises important review, monitoring and reporting functions with respect to complex matters of environmental law and policy. The Environmental Commissioner has also made valuable recommendations for legislative amendments to the EBR to improve public involvement and political accountability. Such expertise does not reside in the Ombudsman’s office and would have to be duplicated to effectively satisfy EBR requirements. Crucial functions fulfilled by the Office of the Environmental Commissioner include assisting the public to exercise their rights under the EBR, educating the public as to those rights, monitoring responses to Requests for Review and Requests for Investigation, monitoring the use of the EBR Registry, and many other aspects of the EBR. Almost all of these functions are far beyond the functions that the Ombudsman performs, and are required by the EBR. Although the EBR was never intended to replace pre-existing rights of consultation and participation, in many cases it has become the only opportunity now for the public to be consulted as to significant environmental issues. The Environmental Commissioner’s Office is essential to monitor and review public exercise of these rights and government’s response to these rights. Media reports note that a communications advisor for Environment Minister Tony Clement stated that the work of the Environmental Commissioner had previously “been done and done well by the ombudsman.” This statement is misleading and incorrect in law and in practice.The scope of investigative activities for which the Ombudsman’s office is responsible is the entire range of decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions of the provincial government. The office is well known for lengthy delays in processing public complaints. However, despite this mandate to cover the entire provincial government, the Ombudsman’s role is limited to investigating complaints. The Environmental Commissioner’s mandate is broader and focuses on government’s response to the environmental responsibilities provided by the EBR. Because of the long-term implications of environmental decisions, and the impacts on future generations, review by an objective, non-partisan Officer dedicated to and specialized in this task is absolutely essential. An amalgamation of these two offices would send a clear signal that your government gives environmental issues low priority and that the functions of the Environmental Commissioner’s Office are being down-graded by your government. In short, elimination of the Environmental Commissioner’s Office will mean:

  • reduced oversight of Ministerial compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights;
  • reduced ability for the public to understand environmental legislation and policy and to participate in shaping it;
  • reduced or eliminated government environmental accountability; and
  • reduced ability for an independent and highly credible voice to communicate to the public and media concerning the state of Ontario’s environment.

Given the overall and unique strength, importance and contribution of the Environmental Commissioner’s Office, we the undersigned groups call on your government to provide the public with your assurance that the Environmental Commissioner’s Office will not be amalgamated with the Ombudsman’s office. We look forward to hearing from you.Yours very truly,Paul Muldoon, Executive DirectorCanadian Environmental Law AssociationBuzz Hargrove, PresidentCanadian Auto WorkersKen Bondy, PresidentCanadian Auto Workers Windsor Regional Environment CouncilBlair Phillips, SecretaryCanadian Auto Workers Local 199, St. Catharines, Environment Standing CommitteeBonnie Henderson, ChairCanadian Auto Workers Local 4451, Environment Committee Joe Zsoldos, Vice PresidentCanadian Auto Workers, Local 1520, St. ThomasGord TaylorCanadian Auto Workers Local 1973, Environment Committee Sarah Dover, Campaign DirectorCanadian Endangered Species CampaignAnne Mitchell, Executive DirectorCanadian Institute For Environmental Law And PolicyJulie Gelfand, Executive DirectorCanadian Nature FederationJim MahonCitizens’ Coalition To Maintain The Environment, LondonMichael Harrison, PresidentCitizens Concerned About The Future Of The Etobicoke Waterfront (Inc.)Pat Schincariol, PresidentCitizens’ Environment Alliance Of SW OntarioJohn JacksonCitizen’s Network On Waste ManagementCarol Greenlee, PresidentCoalition On The Niagara EscarpmentDolf Harmsen, PresidentCollins Watershed AssociationChris Winter, PresidentConservation Council Of OntarioKyle FergusonEarthrootsRic Symmes, Executive DirectorFederation Of Ontario NaturalistsLibby RacanskyFriends Of The Farewell Don McLean, ChairFriends Of Red Hill ValleyMargaret Wooster, Executive DirectorGreat Lakes UnitedRita Banach, Executive DirectorGreen Environmental Group (Toronto) Inc.Rick Coronado, CommunicationsGreenplanet Social Justice And Ecology NetworkPierre Arnold, PresidentHamilton Naturalists’ ClubRick Smith, National DirectorInternational Fund For Animal Welfare-CanadaIan Naisbitt, PresidentLittle River Enhancement Group, Essex – WindsorEric Greenspoon, PresidentNoiseWatchBrennain Lloyd NorthwatchIrene KockNuclear Awareness ProjectAnn Oaks, PhD, FRSC,Prof Emeritus, McMaster UniversityDavid Vander Dussen, PresidentOntario Beekeepers’ AssociationWayne Samuelson, PresidentOntario Federation of LabourChris Michener, Conservation DirectorPembroke Area Field NaturalistsSusan KoswanPesticide Action Group -KitchenerJean GreigPeterborough Eco- CouncilKen Ogilvie, Executive DirectorPollution ProbeJohn Kerr-Wilson, PresidentRideau Field Naturalists John JacksonSt. Clair River International Citizens’ NetworkJanet FletcherStorrington Committee Against TrashMike NickersonSustainability ProjectLois Corbett, Executive DirectorToronto Environmental AllianceJohn JacksonToxic Waste Research CoalitionKris LeeWallaceburg Clean Water CommitteeDaryl Novak, CoordinatorWaterloo Public Interest Research GroupTim Gray, Executive DirectorWildlands League