It appears that the Ontario government is still, at best, paying only lip-service to the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993. The Auditor General’s just-released 2020 Annual Report of Environmental Value-for-Money Audits and the Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights concludes that while some ministries made an effort to address recommendations from the last audit, for the most part, compliance worsened.
The Auditor General’s 2020 annual report cites several examples, such as:
- the inadequate consultation on 2019 amendments to the Endangered Species Act, 2007 that reduced legal protection for species
- six related 2019 proposals for significant changes to how Crown land is managed for commercial forestry that did not adequately disclose their impact on species at risk
- the suspension of consultation requirements from April 1, 2020 to June 15, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; though the suspension might appear reasonable given the circumstances, only nine of 276 exempted proposals were urgent and related to COVID-19.
The Auditor General also concludes that the government is dropping the ball on energy conservation, a conclusion also reached by Carleton University-based Efficiency Canada in its annual energy efficiency scorecard.
The Auditor General looked at three provincial ministries and agencies with important energy conservation mandates: Municipal Affairs and Housing; Energy, Northern Development and Mines; and the Ontario Energy Board (OEB). The Auditor General’s 2020 annual report finds that the three organizations were concerned with energy conservation only in a general way. There were missed opportunities, such as the Municipal Affairs and Housing’s failure to adopt energy efficiency elements of the new Ontario Building Code, the slow uptake at Energy, Northern Development and Mines of building-related initiatives in the Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, and the OEB’s delayed development of a new natural gas conservation framework.
Ontario has slipped from 3rd to 4th place in Efficiency Canada’s annual ranking of provincial energy efficiency policies, and the organization warns that Ontario risks falling further because of budget cuts to energy conservation programs planned for the 2021-2024 period.
The Auditor General’s 2020 annual report also takes issue with the Ontario government’s management of biodiversity in its network of provincial parks, and with a lack of environmental targets across three ministries.