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(TORONTO) The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks needs to do more in leading by example on the environmental front by supporting, promoting and administering the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR Act) in a more fulsome manner, concluded Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in her 2020 Annual Report of Environmental Value-for-Money Audits and the Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights.
The report found examples by multiple government ministries of non-compliance with their responsibilities under the EBR Act that prevented its effective operation in 2019/20. The report states some ministries are still not posting environmentally significant proposals on the Environmental Registry or giving the public enough time to respond when they do.
“The ministries have an obligation to embrace this legislation and include Ontarians in the decision-making process,” said Lysyk. “The EBR is critical in ensuring meaningful public participation and better decisions af-fecting the environment.”
The report shows a number of issues that all led to ministries’ compliance with the EBR worsening in 2019/20. These issues include:
The Auditor General also concluded the Environment Ministry put in place an overly broad temporary exemption to the EBR’s public consultation requirements—created to help the province respond rapidly to COVID-19 issues. The report says the exemption had the effect of bypassing Ontarians’ right to request permission to appeal decisions for 197 environmentally significant permits and approvals that were unrelated to the pandemic.
“Given that the Environmental Bill of Rights has been with us for 26 years, the level of non-compliance by ministries is surprising,” says the Auditor General. “We strongly encourage the ministries to be more diligent in this regard.”
The Auditor General’s report made a total of 57 recommendations.
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Background and Other Findings:
The Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR) recognizes the province has the responsibility for protecting the natural environment and Ontarians’ rights to participate in government’s environmental decisions and hold the government accountable for those decisions.
The EBR requires prescribed ministries to provide a minimum of 30 days for the public to comment on proposals posted on the Registry. It also requires ministries to consider providing more time for public consultation on proposals based on how complex they are, the level of public interest, or other factors.
The audit also noted that ministries’ decisions that were not consistent with purposes of the EBR Act re-
duced government transparency and accountability. It concluded this could undermine public confidence in government environmental decision-making.
Some other findings include: