Ontario needs better environmental engagement

A recent report by the Ontario Auditor General has found that some Crown corporations are failing to adequately consult and engage the public when they conduct or consider environmental projects such as mine, pipeline and desalination plant applications.

This failure occurs despite the fact that Environment Canada requires a “comprehensive process to ensure that the decision-making process is inclusive of the views of the affected population, so that communities and organizations have an opportunity to review the project and ask questions.”

The report also highlights that some of the projects where “there were insufficient opportunities for public participation” could also have led to adverse effects.

A large component of the public engagement that currently occurs is the distribution of information in local newspapers and on public access channels such as social media and television, a process that continues to be intensively utilized by these ministries. However, the Ontario Government’s own infrastructure planning processes often do not sufficiently meet those needs.

The Ontario Auditor General’s Office found that Environment Canada provides no formal assessment of the cumulative impact of industrial and proposed industrial projects in Ontario.

One example of this is the planned mining operation of the Holmwood Kettle River Resource Camp on Huron River in northern Ontario, which is expected to result in increased air emissions. The camp expansion will increase the area burned for generating electricity and ore was mined from the Kettle River mine; but the impacts from the increased production were not considered in the Regional Impact Assessment. This was not the case in the regional Industrial Projects Impact Assessment or the Provincial Environmental Impact Statement, on which the Convention on Impact Assessment was based.

The report also notes that environmental decisions are not handled independently: “In nearly a third of the projects we reviewed, the government agency in charge had a significant management role.”

The Auditor General’s Office concluded that “with Ontario having significant environmental policies in place, there is a strong expectation that this legislation will be implemented effectively. However, we found that the use of the province’s public consultation processes were not extensive enough to fully implement the directive. Our analysis found that, of the 165 project applications that were submitted to the Ministry for Environment, Environment and Climate Change for review, the applicant received 127 responses from stakeholders at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Of these, 24 were received in December 2016, 49 of which were filed within 25 days of the date of submission. In March 2017, the government identified more than 550 projects that would be reviewed for project proposal, but these were not sufficiently investigated to ensure that they meet the standards of the Directive.”

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