Environmental Assessment in Ontario: Rhetoric vs. Reality

The archives of the Canadian Environmental Law Association contain an article by Richard D. Lindgren (Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association) and Burgandy Dunn titled “Environmental Assessment in Ontario: Rhetoric vs. Reality“, originally published in the Journal of Environmental Law & Practice, Volume 21, 2010.  Here is an excerpt from the introductory section:

[I]n his 2007-2008 Annual Report, the Environmental Commissioner again criticized the current state of the EA program, despite recent changes implemented by the Ministry of the Environment. Among other things, the Environmental Commissioner concluded that “Ontario’s EA process is broken” for a variety of reasons:

[E]nvironmental assessment has a crucial role to play in our lives; it should be society’s pre-eminent tool to carry out farsighted planning for public infrastructure in the name of the public good. Unfortunately, Ontario has been long burdened with an EA system where the hard questions are not being asked, and the most important decisions aren’t being made—or at least not being made in a transparent, integrated way. The province has increasingly stepped away from some key EA decision-making responsibilities, and the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is not adequately meeting its vital procedural oversight role. As a result, the EA process retains little credibility with those members of the public who have had to tangle with its complexities.

Therefore, despite various EA reform initiatives in recent years, there remains well-founded concern about whether—or to what extent—Ontario’s EA program is actually achieving its statutory purpose, viz., “the betterment” of the people of Ontario by providing for the “protection, conservation and wise management” of the environment.

Accordingly, the purpose of this article is to provide a general overview of the main components of the current EAA, and to review recent trends and developments, which warrant further reform efforts by the provincial government. In light of this analysis, it is clear that there is considerable room for improvement in virtually every aspect of Ontario’s EA program.

The article is accessible at http://s.cela.ca/files/766.LindgrenDunnFinal.pdf .

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