The focus of our blogs, environmental compliance tips, webinars, etc…is typically on the nuts and bolts of environmental compliance, assessment, and remediation. Occasionally, we look at the bigger picture issues because they may eventually have some bearing on the nuts and bolts issues.
One of those big picture issues is a look at the annual report from the Auditor General of Ontario.
You may recall that since 1994 the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) had acted as the “environmental watchdog” in Ontario. Premier Ford eliminated this office in 2019 and the Auditor General absorbed the responsibility.
On November 18, 2020, The Auditor General of Ontario released a series of four reports:
- Operation of the Environmental Bill of Rights
- Value-for-Money Audit: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy Use in Buildings
- Value-for-Money Audit: Conserving Natural Environment With Protected Areas
- Value-for-Money Audit: Setting Indicators and Targets and Monitoring Ontario’s Environment.
Below we provide some excerpts from the Targets and Monitoring report only as it relates to the Environment Ministry (not the other Ministries in this report).
November 2020 Report
The report states, “Our audit found that the Environment Ministry’s air and water monitoring programs are extensive, and respond to legislative and regulatory requirements, inter-jurisdictional agreements and other commitments. However, we found that the three lead ministries have not put into place effective systems and processes for setting targets, carrying out effective monitoring practices, and ensuring data quality and data sharing for certain aspects of Ontario’s environment.”
Specifically, the report says, “The Environment Ministry has not set targets for conserving water; decreasing hazardous and toxic substances in products; improving the water quality of lakes (other than Lake Simcoe and Lake Erie); or protecting and recovering species at risk.”
The report also states that the province has not set short-term targets to achieve the longer-term target of reducing Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The report states that few environmental monitoring programs are evaluated to ensure that they are effective. It also states that the “Secretariat has long advised ministries to develop performance measurement frameworks—consistent processes to collect, analyze, and report information on how programs are performing and whether they are achieving their intended outcomes.” However, according to the audit, they found that few of the three ministries’ monitoring programs have performance measurement frameworks in place.
Responding to the report, the Environment Ministry states, “We agree that Ministry targets for key environmental commitments are important to measure progress toward environmental goals and objectives and we will continue to use monitoring data to support them. The Ministry will explore opportunities to improve how we track progress and measure effectiveness of Ministry programs and how best to share program results publicly.”
Environmental Group Responds
Also weighing in on the report was The Environmental Group, Environmental Defence. “This year’s Auditor General report confirms that Ontario’s promises to protect and preserve our environment are hollow.” They went on to target the Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan stating that the Plan has been “sitting on a shelf gathering dust, while this government ignores its promised actions to fight climate change, protect green spaces and endangered species…”
As this blog is being written, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and there has been a greater push to reduce and relax government programs as many companies struggle to survive.
In fact, the Auditor General stated that the “Environment Ministry created a COVID-19 exemption to the Environmental Bill of Rights that allowed the Ministry to forgo their responsibilities to post proposals. As a result, Ontarians lost the right to appeal decisions and about 197 environmentally significant permits and approvals that were unrelated to COVID-19 but were proposed during the exemption period from April 1 to June 15, 2020.”
Future Targets and Monitoring
When our economic health returns, can we eventually expect a greater emphasis on establishing targets and monitoring at the provincial level? Further, might this trickle down to new requirements for companies to monitor?
We will continue to keep a watchful eye on the nuts and bolts issues and report on them here. In the meantime, feel free to contact me at 519-948-7300 Ext. 114 if you have any questions or need assistance with an environmental matter.
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