In light of November 8, 2016 being the last day for the public to submit comments for the revision of Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, local environmental advocacy groups Environment Hamilton and Hamilton Blue Dot, co-sponsored a talk by Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Dr. Dianne Saxe at Hamilton’s City Hall at 7pm on Tuesday September 27th. Approximately 50 people attended including Environment Hamilton’s Executive Director Lynda Lukasik, Volunteer Blue Dot presenter Fiona Parascandalo, Councillor Matthew Green and Green Party Canada 2015 candidates for Hamilton Centre and Hamilton Mountain, Ute Schmid-Jones and Raheem Aman. Dr. Saxe gave a brief overview of the history of environmental rights in Ontario-we’ve come a long way- explained what her office does and how its website is a powerful tool for activists providing research and help with navigation for sending feedback to the right government channels.
With 40 years experience as an environmental lawyer previous to her appointment as Environmental Commissioner, last December, she has seen how the law has changed and how we have moved beyond a “Government knows best” culture. The environmental and human health catastrophes such as Love Canal, the use of Agent Orange for clearing brush on Ontario highways and acid rain have eroded that trust and the law has changed. For example, in the 1950’s companies could dump toxic waste directly in rivers, in the 1970’s it went to landfill, now there are strict provisions for the handling of toxic waste. Still, as Hamilton Blue Dot presenter Fiona Parascandalo noted in her introductory presentation, Ontarians have a right to notification about pollution, but no enforceable provisions for protection. To quote Dr. Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner is a “Watch Dog, not a Police Dog”. Still, she explained that the government needs public support for “social legitimacy” to implement its decisions and public input has actually influenced 37 percent of government decisions.
Dr. Saxe explained that as citizens we have a right to notification of government proposals for projects affecting the environment, the right to comment and the right to appeal any government decision. Her website is “a tool box” for making our comments more effective in content. Her office publishes three annual reports per year on environmental conservation: green house gas emissions, and environmental protection, and in process. Her website offers under drop down menu “Your Rights/Comment on Government Proposals” access to the registry where citizens can make their comments for the reform of the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights using reference #012-8002.
Since taking office in December, Dr. Saxe is “more frightened” by the rapidity of climate change now and underlined the need to “get ready for what is coming”. Submitting our ideas for the reform of the Environmental Bill of Rights is one way that we can push for greater government accountability to respond to the climate crisis.
About the Author
Mary Ann Blair has been volunteering with Hamilton 350 since the Fall of 2015 preparations for the Hamilton 2 Paris climate rally on November 29th. She is deeply concerned about climate change and the need to radically change our lifestyles to support a local, ecologically sound, climate resilient economy. She wrote this article for readers because until attending Dr. Saxe's talk at Hamilton City Hall, she did not know what her environmental rights were as an Ontarian, what an Environmental Commissioner was and how effective sending comments through the provincial government's registry can be.