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The fact that there is still an Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, is a bit of a beacon of hope for me.
That the government still deems it appropriate and useful to face harsh public criticisms from within seems almost, well, old fashioned in Canada’s changing political landscape.
The man who occupies that particular chair, Gord Miller, happens to be an engaging and accessible writer, which is a good thing when you are leading the public by the hand through 100-plus page reports chronicling the dismantling of their public services.
He wears his heart on his sleeve.
A formidable watchdog — Miller is a scientist turned career public service bureaucrat with a deeply ingrained sense of the big picture role that institutions like the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) play in a social-democratic society like our own.
He is one of the few non-politicians who isn’t bound to specifics and is free to argue higher ideals about our government’s direction from an informed standpoint.
Miller’s opening statement to his lengthy report pays homage to the traditional relationship between the public and the ministries which now represent an eroding line of control and accountability over resources and the environment in an age where it’s cheaper to convince people of the historically unproven idea of ‘Industry, the responsible environmental steward’.
As watchdogs go, Miller is barking harder than usual in his 2013 Annual Report to the people of Ontario. His words are of particular concern to the peoples of the North.
Miller seems to imply that Ontario’s environment and natural resources ministries are now barely equipped to oversee the maintenance of environmental standards in their own backyards let alone the coming resource renaissance of The Ring of Fire mining development.
Further to that Miller makes some alarming conclusions over seven amendments to Bill 55, part of the recent MNR Transformation. Passed without public consultation, Miller says the amendments allow this or any other future government the flexibility to redefine Crown Land use and natural resource management — allowing the province to outsource natural resource management to private third-party entities that do not have the long-term conservation and protection of Ontario’s natural resources as their foremost priority.
Miller points to similar resource management scenarios already in place in Northern Alberta, where large tracts of public lands have been handed over to the exclusive control of large multi-national corporations.
The resulting rush to exploit resources has indeed generated significant economic activity, but created a wasteland and eroded Canada’s international reputation as responsible, forward thinking stewards of the land base.
If Ontario is setting itself up in a manner to emulate Northern Alberta’s example, then it is indeed a matter of concern.
Miller’s challenge is of convincing the public that these concerns should be theirs, that they could have lasting effects on their way of life.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s 2013 Annual Report is available at www.eco.on.ca