Changes in Ontario: Environmental Commissioner’s Office and TRA Eliminated

Posted by on May 1, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

While the environmental violation by Air Liquide Canada happened two years ago (April 2017), the matter was recently settled in court.  The violation, a release of 815 kilograms of ammonia, resulted in some people seeking shelter and one person who experienced eye and throat irritation.  For Air Liquide Canada, it cost them $100,000 and another $25,000 victim surcharge (paid to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks).

This violation was relatively minor when compared to some of the previous violations we have shared (see Limiting Environmental Events and More Fines).  It does serve as a reminder, however, that as long as we have manufacturing processes, we need to be mindful of the potential environmental impacts.  The question is, how do we best limit environmental events.

Environmental Watchdog

Enforcement of environmental regulations is the job of both Environment and Climate Change Canada and, in Ontario, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP).  In Ontario, there has historically been another office that has acted as an “environmental watchdog,” the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO).  The ECO office was created in 1994 via the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights.  However, the ECO office has recently been eliminated.

With the recent elimination of the position of the ECO office, some Ontarians are expressing concerns while the Ford Administration is offering assurances.

Protection of Ontario’s environment (and views such as this) is the job of the MECP and ECCC (Photo Credit: Jorg Hummel from Pixabay).

Office of the Auditor General Ontario

Under Premier Doug Ford’s administration, the ECO position was absorbed by the Office of the Auditor General Ontario (OAGO) office.  According to a FAQ document by the OAGO, “OAGO’s new responsibilities under the Act (Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act) include reporting annually on the operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights, and this Act gives the OAGO authority to review the government’s progress on activities to promote energy conservation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and any other matters our Office considers appropriate.”

The OAGO document goes on to say, “The new law makes no changes to ministries’ responsibilities to post notices on the Environmental Registry, and Ontarians will continue to have the right to know about – and comment on – environmentally significant proposals.”

Final ECO Report

Dianne Saxe, the outgoing commissioner of the now former Environmental Commissioner’s Office, has expressed her concerns about the new administration’s policies.

With respect to the new climate policy, Ms. Saxe said, “At a time when climate damage is accelerating, Ontario is turning away from the things that we know work.”  She said that the new climate policy is “…very inadequate, very frightening.”

The final ECO report was released in November, 2018.

Carbon Tax and TRA

The Ford administration has been vocal on a number of issues, including the Federal Carbon Tax.  In a press release, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Rod Phillips, stated, “We cannot stand by and watch the carbon tax make life more unaffordable for families, seniors and put jobs and businesses at risk.  Ontario’s government will work for the people to use all tools at our disposal to fight the Federal Carbon Tax, whether it’s in Saskatchewan, Ontario, or the Supreme Court of Canada.”

All of this comes on the heels, more or less, of the elimination of Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act (which will be fully eliminated by 2021).  The Ford Administration believes that the TRA program is duplicative (with the Federal Chemicals Management Plan) and unnecessary.

Addressing Environmental Issues

So where do all of these changes leave Ontarians?  Time will tell.  Climate issues aside, there is no shortage of environmental issues, including protection of surface and groundwater, emerging contaminants (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS), and concerns about developing more robust air quality limits and guidance.

We will continue to monitor environmental regulatory developments and share them in our blogs and articles.  In the meantime, if you need assistance with an environmental assessment, remediation, or permitting issue, don’t hesitate to contact me at 519-979-7300, Ext. 114.