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Ontario Bill 57 guts Environmental Commissioner's office

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/16/2018 1:36:00 PM

That didn’t take long.

Fifty-one days after Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe delivered a scathing assessment of the Doug Ford government’s scrapping of cap-and-trade in Ontario, and only two days after Saxe’s second report, this one taking the government to task for a range of environmental shortcomings, she may be out of a job. And if she isn’t, the role she fills as Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has been eviscerated.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli accompanied his fall economic statement on November 15, 2018 with Bill 57, the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018, an omnibus amendment Bill whose Schedule 15 takes aim at the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993, specifically targeting the office of the Environmental Commissioner.

The office of the Environmental Commissioner, which since 1993 has been an independent office reporting to the Legislature, will become an arm of the province’s Auditor General. The Auditor General will be required to appoint a Commissioner of the Environment, but the Bill effectively strips the Commissioner of all responsibilities. The responsibilities that are retained — producing annual reports on energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions — become the Auditor General’s, and those reports may be folded into the Auditor General’s annual report.

The Bill does transfer all current employees of the Environmental Commissioner’s office to the Office of the Auditor General. Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), told EcoLog News she expects that will include the current Environmental Commissioner, but it’s not entirely clear. What is clear is that whoever holds the office will have a much reduced role if Schedule 15 of the Bill passes as it currently stands.

“There’s a serious de-emphasis of the role and responsibilities” of the Environmental Commissioner, says McClenaghan. The Commissioner will no longer report directly to the Legislature and will operate under the direction of the Auditor General. The Commissioner will no longer report on compliance by government ministries with the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993. Nor will the Commissioner receive requests for review of government policies from the public. They will go directly to the relevant ministry instead, stripping the Commissioner of any role in marshalling those requests and policing their progress.

CELA relies upon that right to request a review, says McClenaghan. “Having an independent officer looking at how ministries are handling these issues is an extremely important check and balance,” she says.

The Auditor General is also an independent officer of the Legislature, McClenaghan concedes, but the focus of that office is value-for-money. An independent Environmental Commissioner underscores the vital role that the environment plays in government decision-making.



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