TORONTO — The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dianne Saxe, called on the provincial government to better protect threatened species and make environmental justice part of its reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. From species at risk, to algae, to environmental rights, her annual Environmental Protection Report, Good Choices, Bad Choices: Environmental Rights and Environmental Protection in Ontario, highlights both environmental successes and failures.

The Commissioner’s report highlights how the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is failing to protect species at risk, like the Algonquin wolf. “It’s illegal to kill threatened species in Ontario, but the MNRF has decided to strip the Algonquin wolf of this protection in much of its habitat,” said Saxe. “There may be as few as 250 mature Algonquin wolves in the wild, and hunting and trapping are major threats to their survival. The Algonquin wolf stands little chance without full protection.”

Good Choices, Bad Choices also reports on how two ministries overhauled their permitting processes with very different outcomes. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) simplified its approvals process by shifting some low-risk activities from individualized permits to pollute to standard rules. The MOECC’s permitting system has successfully brought many previously unregulated facilities under consistent, up-to-date environmental standards, while also improving compliance. In contrast, the MNRF’s permitting system under the Endangered Species Act is a failure, says the Commisioner. Her report says the MNRF’s simplified approvals system generally lowers the standard of protection for species at risk, with little to no transparency, oversight or enforcement. In the almost 3,000 applications submitted since the act was passed, the MNRF has never turned down a single permit to harm or kill a species at risk, says Saxe.

Other topics covered in the report include: report cards on the government’s compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights, showing improvements due to outreach by the Commissioner’s office; implications of changes to the Aggregate Resources Act; and the 68,000 km2 shortfall in Ontario’s protected area system that is required to meet the national 17 per cent target by 2020.

Good Choices, Bad Choices: Environmental Rights and Environment Protection in Ontario can be downloaded here.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is an independent officer of the Legislature who reports on government progress on environmental protection, climate change and energy conservation.