Ontario’s environmental policies do not prioritize environmental protection

Though the majority of Ontario’s municipalities have environmental protection plans, the results of research completed by a provincial auditor general suggests they do not tell the full story. Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in a report released this week that municipalities do not know how their Green Zones prioritize environmental protection. She also questioned the current focus of green policies as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ms. Lysyk suggested that municipalities should more actively consider the wider value of economic development when they invest in a project or improving infrastructure.

A report from the auditor general, while highlighting Ontario’s existing municipal environmental programs, determined that many of these programs are discretionary and did not require review. She recommended that municipalities develop policies and oversight structures to ensure their programs are applied fairly and have a focus on environmental protection. In her report, Ms. Lysyk noted that two examples of municipalities that appear not to have had their policies in place for some time showed negative results.

One example, an assessment by the Ontario Geotechnical Society, which evaluated various infrastructure projects, described the project carried out by the city of Keswick, Ont., as “stale.” She criticized the project, which was an expansion of a landfill, for not following legislation. The evaluation noted that the transportation infrastructure was too small to save diesel fuel, and criticized the project’s failure to forecast the costs of construction and maintenance as severe. In her report, Ms. Lysyk recommended that the Ministry of Natural Resources amend its regulations so that an assessment can be conducted in accordance with the terms of the Environment Protection Act.

Another example she used was in Napanee, where a proposal to rezone a commercial, industrial and residential property led to a setback meeting between citizens and officials in 2017. Among the project’s flaws, according to Ms. Lysyk, was the lack of consultation with residents to ensure they had a chance to express their opinion. She recommended that the city take into account a community consultation process when it is planning development in their city.

In her report, she highlighted how governments often neglect to identify where taxpayer dollars are being spent in their jurisdictions. In the case of Ontario’s municipalities, certain environmental programs often end up being only a small component of the budget. Ms. Lysyk recommended that governments develop processes to improve their information sharing on the projects and programs that were receiving funding.

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