Queen's Park, ontario parliament building at night.

Queen’s Park, Ontario parliament building
Time Flies” by Paul Bica  CC BY 2.0

Environmental Legislation Killed by the Ontario Election

Hopes for sweeping new green legislation on everything from protecting the Great Lakes to improving recycling rates have been dashed.

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.

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:

Bill 6, Great Lakes Protection Act

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.

Bill 56, Aggregate Recycling Promotion Act

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.

Bill 83, Protection of Public Participation Act

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.

Bill 91, Waste Reduction Act

Introduced by: Environment Minister Jim Bradley

The skinny: Calling the monopolies that oversee household hazardous waste, tire and electronic recycling “cartels,” Environment Minister Jim Bradley introduced legislation to dramatically overhaul the recycling sector in Ontario in an attempt to drive up the province’s mediocre 25 per cent waste diversion rate. For industry, that rate is an abysmal 13 per cent.

Bradley’s bill would have done away with the existing overseers and created a new entity called the Waste Reduction Authority. It would have made it easier for companies to rethink their packaging in an effort to make their products and the cost of recycling them cheaper. The bill also would have allowed for industry to pay for more than 50 per cent of the residential blue box program which they cannot do now.

The problem: Despite calls from industry to be given greater flexibility in how they process their materials, municipalities eager to offset blue box costs onto industry and recycling groups eager to see diversion rates increase, this bill died on the order paper because of Progressive Conservative opposition and nothing more.

The bill received substantial debate from September until December, 2013 before the government realized the Tories, who argued the Waste Reduction Authority was simply more red tape, were intending on calling every member of their caucus to speak in the House in order to eat up the clock.

Status: After being debated on 16 sessional days, Bill 91 didn’t even make it to committee. It died at second reading.

Bill 138, Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act

Introduced by: Environment Minister Jim Bradley

The skinny: The Liberals have been promising to eliminate coal-fired electricity generation from the province’s energy mix for a decade now, but 2013-14 finally saw the last of the dirty fossil fuel burned in Ontario coal plants.

After making the elimination of coal a cornerstone of their environmental achievements – they even had noted environmentalist Al Gore speak in Toronto on achieving the coal-free milestone – the Liberals wanted to make sure smog days in the GTA were a thing of the past.

Bill 138 would have made it illegal for future Ontario governments to burn coal to generate power without having to go through the legislature and have a full public debate on the topic. Though the Liberals would never admit it, the bill was an attempt to shore up their signature environmental gain and throw up a roadblock to any future Tory government more sympathetic to the cases made for burning coal.

The problem: This bill was never a priority. After basking in the accolades of Gore and environmentalists who cheered Ontario’s coal-free announcement, the government took advantage of the goodwill afforded them to introduce legislation to keep the province from ever sliding back into the habit of trying to lower hydro bills by burning cheaper coal at the sake of human health and the environment.

Passing the bill could have been problematic, as shoring up Tory support may have been impossible. But surely the government cared enough about protecting one of their greatest environmental accomplishments to do whatever it took to pass those protections, right?

Status: Wrong. It was never called for second reading.

Bill 167, Invasives Species Act

Introduced by: Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti

The skinny: Acting quickly is critical in the detection and eradication of invasive species, but overlap between municipal, provincial and federal regulations can seriously delay efforts from the Ministry of Natural Resources. Had it passed, Ontario would have become the first jurisdiction in Canada with stand-alone invasive species legislation.

The bill, which MNR staff began work on last summer, would give the government greater authority, including over banning particular species. It also would have strengthened the ministry’s inspection and enforcement capabilities to make sure companies and individuals comply and face stiff penalties when they don’t.

The problem: It’s a complex bill, proposing changes to numerous pieces of existing legislation while laying out how invasive species can be transported in the province and what powers MNR has to enforce the law and penalize those who break the rules. This means not only did it take a long time to draft, it would have taken a long time to debate thoroughly.

Status: It was introduced on February 26, 2014 and got a single day of second reading debate on April 8 before it, too, died on the order paper.

Andrew Reeves is the Editor-in-Chief of Alternatives Journal. Overrun, his book about Asian carp in North America, will be published in Spring 2019 by ECW Press. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights. Follow him on Twitter.