SO WE KEEP WAITING.
Ontario’s environmental community had reason for optimism when Kathleen Wynne assumed leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in January 2013, knowing the new premier was more progressive than her predecessor Dalton McGuinty and perhaps more inclined to want to beef up the Liberals’ green cred.
But with an election called for June 12, hopes for sweeping new green legislation on everything from protecting the Great Lakes to improving recycling rates have been dashed. In some cases, it’s not the first death a bill has suffered at the hands of a sessional shut down.
Several key pieces of environmental legislation died on the order paper this month when Wynne, knowing support for her spring budget would not be forthcoming from New Democratic leader Andrea Horwath, made it clear to Lieutenant Governor David Onley she could no longer govern knowing she did not enjoy the confidence of either opposition party.
As the province prepares to head to the polls in mid-June, let’s look back on some of the environmental legislation Ontario won’t be benefitting from in the near future:
Introduced by: Environment Minister Jim Bradley
The skinny: The Bill aimed to bolster protections for the Great Lakes by creating a Great Lakes Guardians’ Council to help the Environment Minister prioritize restoration projects in communities bordering the Great Lakes. Municipalities and other public bodies can also get in on the action and request funding for their own projects to protect the Great Lakes, such as shoreline clean-ups.
The bill also authorized the minister to formulate Geographically Focused Initiatives, blueprints with the timelines, targets and objectives necessary for projects approved by the Guardians’ Council to become a reality. The Liberals allocated $60 million over four years to the fund.
The problem: Worried the Guardians’ Council was nothing more than bureaucratic red tape, or simply another agency for the Liberals to place well-connected government friends, the Progressive Conservatives opposed the Bill, voting against it in second reading and stalling debate on clause-by-clause analysis of the Bill.
The Tories’ environment critic, Michael Harris, was especially vocal in claiming the bill was redundant, saying that provincial and federal agreements between themselves (Canada Ontario Agreement) and agreements Canada has with the United States (Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement) are sufficient protection for the Great Lakes.
Status: After six days of debate between February and October 2013, Bill 6 made it to a legislative committee which held public consultations and reviewed it into March of this year. When it became clear to the government the bill was going nowhere, committee scheduled debate on other bills and it was never called again.
Introduced by: Tory MPP Sylvia Jones
The skinny: Bill 56 may be the platonic ideal of the non-partisan piece of legislation—an opposition bill supported by all parties in the House that aims to make it easier for municipalities to use more recycled aggregate (the rocks, stones and crushed gravel used in road construction) in their infrastructure projects. It also makes it illegal for public bodies like municipalities to refuse to use recycled aggregate (which could include demolition or waste materials like used cement).
Environmental groups were pleased with the push for Ontario’s municipalities to use more recycled aggregate, reducing the need for further pits and quarries to be dug for virgin aggregate in rural or ecologically sensitive parts of the province.
The problem: It ran out of time. All parties supported its going to committee and all parties worked quickly to report the bill back to the house for a perfunctory third reading before giving it Royal Assent and making it law.
Status: It was ordered for third reading on April 3, one month before the election was called, and sat on the order paper waiting to be called.
Introduced by: Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur
The skinny: The third time a bill of this iteration was introduced by the government or an opposition MPP, Bill 83 would have made it more easier for judges to dismiss lawsuits they identified as SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
In many cases, SLAPP suits have become another tool developers are able to leverage against community groups or small municipalities that oppose specific projects on environmental, social or historical grounds by suing them with the unstated intention of shutting them up. This legislation would have allowed judges to dismiss such lawsuits they felt were being brought forward for no other reason than to help silence local opposition to development projects.
The problem: Wasn’t called for public consultations in committee before the election was called. Passing this legislation was likely, but not without lengthy hearings and clause-by-clause that could have dragged the process out further. While it’s a shame it died on the order paper, it would have likely needed another year to become law.
The bill is not without its issues, mind you. Some opponents of the legislation felt that community groups with a history of excessive legal activism on behalf of the environment might feel emboldened to step up their actions against developers who too would face increased legal fees and loss of revenue from delayed project start dates. But overall, all parties supported the broad principle of allowing the public the right to oppose a development project without fear of undue litigation.
Status: Bill 83 was debated on eight sessional days between September 2013 and April 2014 before heading to the social policy committee where it died when the election was called.