In a Special Report to the Legislative Assembly, Environment Commissioner Gord Miller says that Ontario has backtracked on its commitment to environmental protection. The Report, entitled â€œDoing Less With Lessâ€, documents budget cuts in Ontario over the past decade that have gutted Ontario's ability to protect the environment during a time of unprecedented and warranted concern for the planet.
The Commissioner attributes in the Report the actions of successive governments since the 1990's for the budget cuts and the resulting gradual and steady erosion of staffing and expertise of Ontario's environmental police force. The core functions of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources, he notes, have been reduced in areas such as inspection, compliance, enforcement and monitoring. As a result, there is less oversight of pollutants to air and water, chronic compliance problems, neglected parks, crumbling municipal sewage infrastructure and inadequate protection of wildlife and sports fisheries.
The Report makes the important link between inaction by our policymakers and pollution. Our inability to safely swim, drink and fish our waters is due in large part to under-resourced environmental enforcement agencies rather than a lack of public concern. Ontario's smog days are a result of Ontario's inaction on air pollution. Ontario's closed beaches, contaminated fish and poor water quality are a result of Ontario's inaction on water pollution. In order to properly address and in fact fix these problems, Ontario needs to move into what the Commissioner calls â€œthe next stage of the debate,â€ a debate about how to restore our environmental enforcement agencies.
The Commissioner is to be commended for his leadership in compiling and submitting this report to government. Despite the green rhetoric from politicians and policymakers, the Commissioner has uncovered the smoking gun that belies the conviction to address the problem. Real progress in protecting and winning back our environmental rights requires more than hype; it requires that our environmental laws and policies be given real meaning and force.