by SUSAN MANN
Should the right to a healthy environment be entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms within the country’s Constitution?
That’s a question the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is asking as part of its review of the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights, which has been in place since 1993.
Environment ministry spokesman Gary Wheeler says by email Ontario’s environmental bill of rights is nationally recognized “as an important mechanism in environmental protection.”
A discussion document and how to comment are posted on Ontario’s Environmental Registry available here: http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTI4OTky&statusId=MTk1MTYw
The environmental bill of rights (EBR) review is being done to help “modernize the EBR and improve its efficiency and effectiveness,” he says.
Comments are due Nov. 8. After the deadline, the ministry will analyze the feedback, post a summary of the comments it received and outline the next steps for the bill of rights review, the ministry posting says.
“There is a movement in Canada to enshrine a right to a healthy environment in a legislative framework, principally in the Canadian Constitution,” the posting says. The ministry wants Ontarians’ opinions so “that it may be better positioned to contribute to the national dialogue.”
Currently there isn’t a specific provision in the Constitution’s Charter or in any other federal law that enshrines Canadians’ right to a healthy environment, the posting says. The discussion document didn’t define what a healthy environment is.
Don McCabe, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says the federation doesn’t have a formal position on that notion yet.
He called the statement a “wonderful, laudable principle. But I think we also need to always remember that in agriculture there’s only really one rule – Mother Nature wins. The bottom line is you can put whatever you want on paper but Mother Nature wins.”
Emery Huszka, president of the National Farmers Union – Ontario and Region 3 coordinator, called the statement ambitious.
“It all comes down to balance,” he says. “There’s a growing social consciousness to having things done for a long-term benefit. But farmers aren’t looking to be the scapegoat for the entire cost of the project either.”
Clarence Nywening, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says he doesn’t know yet what to think about the statement.
As for the review of the environmental bill of rights, all three general farm groups are still working on their submissions.
“We’re at the front end of pulling together our information,” McCabe says, adding he couldn’t yet comment on the federation’s position on the review.
Huszka says, “our biggest concern is sustainability of the agricultural infrastructure, which is our land. Most of the positions that we’ve taken have been for the responsible stewardship of that land and our ability to feed ourselves as we go forward.”
In its discussion paper, the environment ministry says under the environmental bill of rights, Ontarians have the power to challenge instruments or decisions posted for comment on the Environmental Registry and to apply for a review of existing environmental acts, regulations and instruments.
It also enables Ontarians to apply for an investigation if an act, regulation or instrument posted under the environmental bill of rights is being violated. The bill of rights enables people to sue violators of environmental laws in court and provides whistleblower protection for employees or others.
Among the questions the ministry asks in its discussion document are:
- Should the purposes and principles of the bill of rights be expanded or modified, and if so how?
- Should additional ministries, instruments or legislation be covered under the bill of rights? The Ontario agriculture ministry is one of the ministries under the bill of rights, and as part of that it had to prepare a statement of environmental values. The ministry must consider the statement when it makes decisions that will or could impact the environment.
- Should the content in the statement of environmental values be reviewed or updated and if so how?
The discussion paper also touches on if changes should be made to the Environmental Registry, which is how the environment ministry informs people about environmentally significant proposals and decisions.
About 1,000 people, environmental organizations and industry representatives access the registry daily, and they view more than 60,000 pages of information, the discussion paper says.
About 3,500 proposals are posted annually on the registry, including a recent posting to regulate the sales and use of neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds, which received 52,299 comments. Those rules came into effect on July 1, 2015. Another recent posting was on the spring bear hunt, which received 13,479 comments. BF