1 DÉCEMBRE 1998 ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
The House met at 1831.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ENVIRONMENTAL STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 1998 / LOI DE 1998 MODIFIANT DES LOIS EN CE QUI CONCERNE L'ENVIRONNEMENT
Mr Sterling moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 82, An Act to strengthen environmental protection and enforcement / Projet de loi 82, Loi visant à affermir la protection de l'environnement et les mesures d'exécution à cet égard.
However, notwithstanding that his government went down to defeat, the former Minister of Environment was successful in the last election. I'm talking about Bud Wildman, the member for Algoma, who is here with us tonight, and of course I expect he will participate in this debate. Some people would allege that Mr Wildman took some of that knowledge that he gained as a former minister and introduced a piece of legislation in the past known as Bill 24. This Bill 24 was a private member's bill which this Legislature voted unanimously in favour of, but the bill came to an end when we prorogued last December. It died, as do all bills, on prorogation.
I know my staff have worked with the member for Algoma and this bill embodies a lot of the parts that were included in Bill 24 but actually goes beyond Bill 24 in that it not only includes matters dealing with waste, but also deals with the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Pesticides Act, particularly the Pesticides Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act. This bill deals with all three acts.
The genesis of this bill and the reason it came to us through the ministry was that over a long period of time former legislators have brought pieces of legislation here dealing with those three pieces of legislation which I just mentioned, the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Pesticides Act, and the penalties that were imposed or dealt with in those acts didn't match up with each other.
Today I want to deal with some of these problems in this bill and put them forward, because putting them forward together - by having this act together and by having the same kind of remedies for our courts, for our environmental officers to deal with in an administrative sense and for our public to know what the laws are and what the penalties are - is very important. It's also important that all three of the acts treat polluters in the same manner and with a much heavier hand than we have in the past, and this is what this new Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act is all about.
Bill Saunderson, the member for Eglinton, will be sharing the leadoff time and will talk about a level playing field for law-abiding businesses. One of the things I'm sure he will point out is that we have, in large part, businesses which want to comply with our environmental laws, but there are bad actors. The problem is that if you don't enforce your environmental laws, the bad actors have a competitive edge over the people who are following the laws. That's what Mr Saunderson will be talking about.
Harry Danford, the MPP for Hastings-Peterborough, will share some thoughts with us on how the act will help the ministry enforce the laws relating to illegal waste practices. Mr Danford, as you know, representing Hastings-Peterborough, has within his constituency, and I'm sure he may talk about it briefly, the Deloro mine site.
I've described the Deloro mine site as one of the worst environmental disasters this province has ever seen. Deloro is a very, very small town north of Highway 7 up in Hastings county. At the turn of the century it employed thousands of people in the mining sector, in the smelting sector and in the refining sector and really left the place a disaster. Previous governments have done some work on the Deloro mine site and we are at this very point in time doing significant work there as well, but there's lots of work ahead.
We spent about $10 million - we the Ontario taxpayers - in dealing with the Deloro mine site. It's likely that we, the taxpayers, are going to have to spend twice as much again, perhaps as much as $18 million to $20 million to deal with that particular site. But one of Mr Danford's great interests in the environment sprang from his desire to see this particular problem dealt with in his own constituency.
As I said, the problem we've had in the past is that regulatory and legislative tools to ensure compliance and enforcement were introduced some time ago. Most of them are as much as 20 years old and they've been put forward piecemeal. Unfortunately, offenders have been able under some of these rules, notwithstanding that they have been breaking them, to continue to operate, knowing that our ministry's hands were tied by our own laws.
Compounding the problem, as I said before, was the inconsistency in what the penalties were under the three different acts that I mentioned previously. This has caused confusion not only for the public but also for our environmental officers applying those laws.
The Ministry of the Environment's legislation has lagged behind other Canadian jurisdictions in making available the use of modern compliance tools such as administrative monetary structures. An administrative monetary structure is a step in which the ministry can hand out a fine if someone is, for instance, not complying with the reporting mechanisms. In the past, the ministry has been faced with one of two choices: Either we allow the business, the polluter or whatever, to not comply with the record-keeping that's required in order to track down exactly what's happening or to take small steps to clear up a particular problem, or we prosecute. We were faced with a wide gulf between either taking no action or taking action which required a great deal of investigative resources, required court time, required that not only from the crown or the ministry but also required that from the citizens.
We are now introducing by this particular statute what we call administrative monetary structures, which have been introduced in other Canadian and American jurisdictions. Clearly these reforms are needed to bring our province in line with other jurisdictions to deter and punish polluters and protect our environment.
I believe the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act goes further than Mr Wildman's bill, which I mentioned before, and brings us up to the same level, and perhaps even a little bit beyond where some of the other jurisdictions are, in being the toughest in North America. That's why I'm very proud of this package. I believe when members of the opposition and members of my party read this and members of the public read this, there will be strong support for this law.
In each of the areas covered by the act, we are increasing our ministry's capabilities to deter and punish those who do not obey the law. I can't stress enough that while the act will make life more difficult for polluters, it is also designed to make it fair for those who obey the law, because of course the lawful operators too are victims of polluters. For too long the field hasn't been level for those who have followed the law and those who have not.
When justice did come, sometimes it wasn't as tough as we would have liked it. This is through no fault of our courts, because they've done, I believe, the best with the tools that we gave them as legislators. Even with stiff fines that have been handed out in the past, it has been very difficult to collect them. Since 1985, those convicted of pollution offences have gotten away with some $10 million in unpaid fines. In addition to the ability to hand out higher fines, we will also have a greater ability to actually collect them. As I look back over the years in terms of the outstanding fines, for instance, in 1995 I believe there were probably fines in the neighbourhood of $3 million or $3.5 million that courts handed out, and $2 million of that remains outstanding. In 1994, there was $1.2 million outstanding.
The other part I'd like to talk about is when we're talking about fines, there has been some criticism of this government about the amounts of the monetary fines that have been levied before and after we came into power. That has happened because the kind of fines that had been handed out in the past were different than the kind of fines that are now handed out through the court system. Not only are the courts now looking to saying to someone, "You are fined $30,000, pay the court," they are making what we call creative fines or penalties in a greater sense than they were before. For instance, in 1995, the first year we were in power, in addition to giving fines, the courts made over $260,000 in other fines of, I guess, penal action against a particular polluter. They would order, for instance, community service. They would order a company to spend money on education. They've been ordered to donate money, $298,000 in 1995, they've been ordered to give restitution, over $1 million, and they've been ordered to do remediation, fix up the site, of over $1 million.
In addition to actual fines, we're also concerned with actually having some of the problems dealt with and some of the people who have been harmed given back the money that is needed to clean up the mess. Our proposals will mean that fines are collected. If the fines aren't collected, under this new legislation the courts will have greater authority to order restitution. Under the old law the courts didn't have as much power as they are given under this particular law to say to a polluter: "Look, you're not only paying a fine, but you're also going to pay to clean up the mess and you're going to pay a certain individual who has suffered and who has cleaned up the mess. You're going to pay him back for what he has done to clean up that mess." This takes into account that particular matter.
Also under this act there may in fact be even fewer prosecutions than there are at the present time because what this law does is it allows our officers to take immediate action. What they can do is, they can seize the licence plates, for instance, of an illegal waste hauler right off the truck. They can freeze that truck and keep it from continuing to break the law, so that we can really get at the bad actors and we can get at the bad actors immediately. Of course there are a few provisions within the legislation, as any fair piece of legislation would have, so the person who had their licence plates seized would have access to an appeal procedure to get the licence plates back if they can show they aren't going to continue breaking the law.
The Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act also streamlines the process by which the environmental officers issue a compliance order in the field. Traditionally in the past, only directors have the authority to issue field orders. Field orders require certain actions to stop a problem from either continuing or developing into a polluting problem. What we're doing here under this legislation is, we're really devolving the power to issue a field order down one level. We're giving that power to the person who's on the front line, so they will be able to go in and issue the order. There will be an appeal procedure in case an environmental officer steps out of line, which can happen, or is confused about the law etc. There will be an appeal procedure to his or her director to ensure that the person against whom the order is being issued has every right to question that particular order. But what it does is, it stops what's happening or starts the correction action immediately.
I've talked about administrative monetary penalties before. Those are penalties which can be given for what we would not term as major polluting offences, but they are offences which, because of our lack of having this kind of an enforcement tool in the past, perhaps what has happened in the past was that some of these activities have been ignored, for instance, reporting and those kinds of things.
The maximum administrative penalty allowed in this act is some $5,000. There's no need for any company to have an administrative penalty levied against it. Of course, again, they can appeal any kind of administrative penalty to the court system as well. But they will in fact make certain that everybody is playing by the same rules and everybody must follow those rules.
The Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act will also enable my officers to secure areas and facilities to ensure that evidence is protected. In the past, this has been a hindrance to my officers. We have an example where one of my environmental officers went to a particular site. There was evidence of certain material being on the property of this business. My officer went off to get a court order in order to secure the site and to secure the evidence. By the time they had returned, the material was gone, the evidence was lost and therefore the prosecution could not be carried forward.
I also want to talk about our investigation force just before I sit down and pass this off to my colleagues Mr Danford and Mr Saunderson. I want to make it clear that our Ministry of the Environment office has not lost one inspector since we came to power. We have cut down on the administration of the investigations branch by a few number of people, but the investigations branch, in terms of the inspectors, did not lose one inspector. In fact, we have in our ministry more inspectors than Canada has for all of Canada under its Department of Environment. I'd also point out that in the near future, in the next year or so, we will be increasing the inspection and investigations branch.
I want to make it clear to everyone, because I've heard the opposition make this charge, that the charge is without foundation, without fact. We have made some savings in some other areas, but we have been very careful in terms of our enforcement ability in this ministry.
This act itself will do a great deal to improve our ability to enforce our present laws. As you know, we have gone through a tremendous regulatory reform process to make our regulations tougher, stronger and clearer. We are now going through a process of bringing forward a new act which will make our enforcement tougher and stronger. I believe that this act should be supported by all members of the Legislature. I'm sure they will. I know that you're looking forward to hearing from Mr Danford, who is going to talk more about illegal waste disposal.
I want to talk a little bit before I sit down about one of the great parts of this act to improve our ability in terms of investigation for surveillance. This act allows us to go to the court first to get permission to install tracking devices on vehicles that we suspect of offences against our environmental laws. At the present time, the only way that we can follow a particular truck is by putting a huge amount of resources. We may have to put four or five cars in order to follow a particular illegal waste hauler. By putting an electronic device on it, we can save a lot of our resources so that we can do even more than we are at the present time.
Another new, modern technique which again would be allowed through the use of a court order would be to plant a particular substance in a load of waste and you'd be able to follow that as you would a fingerprint. You could tell where that load of waste was dumped or left or whatever. What this act really does is bring us into the 20th century and into the next century, the 21st century, in terms of the enforcement tools which my officers will be able to use.
I've outlined a number of the proposals contained in this act. They have one common goal: to be fair to those who comply with our environmental laws but to be tough on those who break them.
I'm now going to allow my colleagues to express some of their thoughts about this act. I'll conclude by saying that I believe that this act is an excellent piece of legislation that would empower the ministry to do a much more effective job in ensuring compliance with and enforcing the law it administers.
I'd like to thank my staff, who have worked very hard on putting this act together in a fairly short period of time, in the last three months. Without their work and their expertise, this excellent work would not be together. The result will be much stronger protection for our air, water and land.
I'm pleased to rise tonight to speak about Bill 82, and in support of it, by the way, because it is an act which will strengthen environmental protection and enforcement. Those are very good goals to look for. We're all aware of the need to protect our environment. Over the past decade we've become recyclers, not only in this province but around the world. An example for all of us is the blue box program, which I think has worked very well.
I think our young people are much more aware of the fragility of our surroundings than we were, and I hope we are becoming much more aware of the fragility of our surroundings, just as our young people have. We're working hard to catch up with them. I really think this bill goes a long way to enforcing some of the things that our young people want to see enforced and I'm sure they will applaud this bill.
I think Mr Sterling has provided the House with a very compelling case why our air, water and land will be better protected with the passage of Bill 82. He has highlighted his bottom line for this legislation and that is to provide the most effective environmental protection possible.
Today I had the opportunity to meet with the counsular corps which is based here in Toronto. It represents the countries that have consul generals here in the city. I had a chance to talk with some of them at this event and I asked them the reasons why they are enjoying their time in Ontario and particularly in Toronto. They said to me that they're impressed with the cultural life of this province, they are impressed with our clean and safe cities, communities that allow children to basically be unmolested and be free to play and enjoy life. But one of the things they did mention was that they enjoyed and respected our concern for our environment. I think that says a lot and I think that's what this bill is talking about. It reflects our concern about our environment.
Ecotourism is a growing market in our province. People come from around the world to enjoy the wilderness experience in the north. They come from Germany, the United States, Japan. They appreciate something that very few countries have. We certainly are a leader in ecotourism. This again represents our concern about the environment, that we have this to offer to people, and the reputation of our concerns about our environment. We must protect our environment and we must be worthy of the admiration of other countries and the people of those countries for what we have in this province.
I'd like to focus my remarks on the effects that this legislation would have on businesses. I know other speakers will address other aspects of the bill, as Mr Danford will be doing after me.
There's an unwritten code for businesses and the way they should operate. In the long term it is in their best interests to follow this code. Most businesses do. The code basically says: "Be ethical. Be good corporate citizens. Be honest and operate with integrity, not only with your employees and your clients, but with the environment." All of this makes common sense.
I think Bill 82 is a way to level the playing field for all Ontario businesses and individuals. We must not forget that most businesses play by the rules and are prepared to meet the tough standards that we have set out here in Ontario as far as the environment is concerned. It is not enough to enact legislation and strong protection laws such as we have in Ontario. I commend previous governments for doing this. Particularly, although he's not here right now, I'd like to congratulate the member for Algoma, Mr Bud Wildman, for his work in this area. The bottom line is that we must ensure that these laws are enforced and that those who break these laws are punished. You have to pay the piper when you do not obey the laws.
It only takes a couple of bad apples to spoil the reputation we have in Ontario as far as the environment is concerned. But these bad apples spoil it for all of us. In the past, it has been all too easy for unscrupulous operators to get away with environmental offences. We read about them in the newspaper, sad stories where people and companies have just not paid attention to what should be done. They have continued to pollute, while the ministry lacks the proper tools to enforce the laws.
If the laws don't have the teeth, then people don't mind the bite of the laws because it doesn't hurt; they can get away basically unscathed. Sometimes they played a kind of shell game to avoid paying the fines assessed to them. Or, if they had been fined, they got off with very light sentences. Some operators have learned how to avoid the rules, to their advantage. Meanwhile, responsible operators, who could have played the same shell games or avoided the rules, have fortunately chosen not to do so. The result of this situation is that there is an advantage for the polluters, those companies, those few bad apples, that spoil it for all the rest of the good operators in this province. This can't go on. That's why Bill 82 is being presented now.
Since 1985, convicted polluters have gotten away with some $10 million in uncollected fines. That's not acceptable, yet this money remains uncollected. Sometimes we can't level the moral playing field, but we can enhance the powers of the government to enforce what the rules should be. What I'd like to see, because of Bill 82, is that it's going to enable the ministry to meet its commitment to act decisively when a violation has been discovered - something that has not been possible before. It's also going to help the ministry identify and achieve more convictions of the few who break the law to gain an advantage over their competitors. Sometimes people lie and cheat to get an advantage. They don't do what I consider is the proper course, of following the code of ethics for businesses that I outlined earlier. I think that's shocking, and something must be done about it.
The other victim of environmental offences is the taxpayer. In many instances it's the taxpayer who has to foot the bill to clean up the mess left by those who break the law or refuse to be held accountable for their actions.
Scrupulous businesses and the taxpayers of Ontario will welcome the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act. Our government is committed to protecting the taxpayer as well as the environment. We want a spirit of equity and fair play for all of Ontario. This act will improve our effectiveness in dealing with repeat offenders, forcing polluters to clean up and forcing convicted polluters to pay the fines that have been imposed upon them. As Minister Sterling ably mentioned, the tools available in Ontario lag behind those of other Canadian jurisdictions. We usually lead in this province. We have to catch up as far as the environment is concerned. We are doing that with this bill.
We need to give our ministry officials the ability to get the job done. This act will make it far less appealing to shortcut Ontario's environmental laws. One of the advantages of having a law such as this is that it gives the ministry a chance to embarrass companies that are not paying attention to the rules. One of the most telling things for a company is an embarrassment. Companies don't want to be embarrassed; they want to be seen as playing the game. I think this is going to put some teeth into our environmental laws.
There are examples of companies that have abused the system for their own advantage. The minister gave one example, which I thought was quite glaring. I'd like to talk for a few minutes about how this act will help the ministry achieve its compliance and enforcement goals more effectively and efficiently.
Bill 82 gives the ministry the authority to make use of administrative monetary policies. Currently, only the courts can impose penalties on polluters. These monetary policies give the ministry's directors the ability to enforce compliance with provincial regulations and the requirements set out in ministry instruments such as permits, approvals and orders. Administrative monetary policies are not fines and they are not a replacement for prosecution in the courts, but they are a new vehicle.
I want to stress here that Bill 82 does not create any new offences; it creates solutions to existing possible offences. What we're doing is simply using administrative monetary penalties to ensure compliance with existing rules. I believe this is the fair way to proceed and the only way to proceed. Fairness is one of the guiding principles behind this ministry's environmental reforms, creating fair and reasonable standards that apply to everyone. Notice I say "everyone," because I want to emphasize again, there are companies that do not follow what I call the rules of fair play. Those are the companies that we want to catch with this new legislation.
I think it's going to speed up our ability to reach solutions to pollution problems. Minor offences often do not reach court because of the time and cost involved. This will bring to justice in a hurry companies that have been avoiding doing the right thing. That means that many of these offences that I referred to do continue, and the offenders don't feel compelled to stop what they're doing. With this act, they're going to soon realize there is something there to make them comply in the same way that other companies are complying.
Quite frankly, you could compare this to the old parking ticket system, where some people never paid their parking tickets until apprehended. Now, under the new system, you cannot renew your licence if you have any parking fines outstanding. This is the type of legislation which is going to make sure that these companies cannot go on and on abusing the system.
I'm confident that the use of administrative monetary policies will allow the ministry officials to respond to minor pollution offences in a timely fashion, but will not prevent prosecution through the court system for more serious offences.
There are a series of checks and balances provided in this legislation to protect individuals and businesses from unnecessary fines and punishments. I think that's an important consideration. We want to be very careful to define what the offences are and to make sure that innocent companies aren't caught up in sometimes overindulgent investigations.
Another way we will ensure a level playing field for responsible operators and the taxpayer is with higher maximum fines for environmental offenders, and additional offences for which prison terms can be used as punishment. Through administrative and monetary measures and the more modern surveillance methods mentioned by the minister, the ministry will be able to address more non-compliant situations.
It's important that we realize that the minister has brought to his ministry the more modern ways of thinking as far as surveillance is concerned. There are new systems, and he is making sure that his ministry has those in place. With the surveillance techniques we talk about being proposed under the act, ministry investigators will be able to track more situations simultaneously. I am sure because of that the environment will be much better protected.
Business the world over looks for jurisdictions where the climate for doing business is predictable, with no surprises. What we're laying out here is a set of guidelines and rules that businesses must follow. When a business is looking to come to Ontario, make an investment, develop economically and create jobs, all of those things that all of us want, regardless of party in this House, we want those companies to be able to ask the legal people they may be employing to help them come to our province and get started as businesses. They want to be told what is expected from them. This bill is going to lay out some guidelines so that they know what's expected of them when they come here. After all, economic development and job creation are the most important aspects for this government and I'm sure for all members in this House.
It's important that these companies realize that in Ontario the provincial regulations we're talking about concerning pollution are going to be enforced and polluters will be penalized. We're getting our message out to companies that are thinking of coming here and, of course, to those that are already here as well.
When the Minister of the Environment introduced this legislation, he stated that it would improve the ministry's ability to enforce the laws safeguarding our air, water and land. I agree with him. I could go on with reasons why I believe the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act is great news for Ontario, but I'd like to turn over the floor to my colleague Harry Danford.
Before I conclude, I'd like to say that this legislation is an excellent starting point. It's always hard to have the most perfect legislation, but this is a very good starting point of giving guidelines to companies that are very enforceable.
I think everyone in this place is committed to the protection of our environment. I have seven grandchildren. I want them to be able to enjoy the best possible environment in Ontario. That is why I think Bill 82 is going to go a long way to help their enjoyment and other children's enjoyment. It's important that we attack now and make sure that our environment is protected. I want the government to protect the province's air, water and land. I support Bill 82.
I want to focus my comments on how the act will help the ministry do a better job of enforcing the provisions of provincial legislation pertaining to waste. From time to time I'll touch on other types of offences that the ministry will be in a better position to address, in my opinion, with this new legislation.
The high incidence of illegal waste practices is one of the prime motivating factors for this legislation. The case study that was used by my colleague William Saunderson is a prime example of how those who engage in illegal waste operations have been able to flourish in Ontario because of limitations on the ability of ministry staff to counter their activities. The new act contains a series of provisions that will turn this situation around and give ministry staff the tools they need to combat illegal waste practices in Ontario.
I want to expand on a few of these provisions and how they will help the ministry crack down on illegal waste and protect Ontario's environment.
The first provision I want to comment on is investigative aids. This is a new capability for the ministry, because there are no provisions in existing environmental legislation for the use of such techniques to help in the surveillance of suspected environmental offences. Surveillance as we all know is very labour-intensive. The ministry must devote several officers as well as substantial resources to each and every case where there is a suspicion that illegal waste activities may be occurring. For instance, it can take as many as five vehicles and the inspectors to staff them to conduct that surveillance. Staff obviously can't be in two places at once, with the result being a limitation on the number of surveillance operations that can be carried out in the province at any one time.
Under the act, ministry staff can use investigative aids after first obtaining a court order. These aids can be either electronic tracking devices or tracking substances. An electronic device can be planted on a vehicle suspected of being engaged in illegal waste activities, and it will enable the ministry staff to track where loads of waste are going and what facilities are involved.
I want to emphasize that there will be very high standards that must be met for ministry staff to get court approval to place these tracking devices and substances. They'll need to show good reason why they believe an offence is being, or is about to be, committed.
The tracking substances I refer to can be placed in a load of waste to act the same as a fingerprint. If a substance is put in, say, waste that the ministry has reason to believe is going to be used illegally, investigators can do a test for the presence of that planted substance. Tracking substances could be very useful because wastes are notoriously difficult to trace, as we all know. One possibility would be the use of a dye in CFCs. These two types of tracking - electronic devices and substances - are complementary; one can be used to track a vehicle while the other tracks a particular load of waste.
Another provision of the act is the ability of ministry officers to secure the site of an environmental offence. For example, in a case where hazardous liquid waste has been dumped in the middle of a heavily populated area, if this were to happen today, ministry staff would not have the authority to cordon off the area. By giving staff this authority, the act would help protect both public health, by keeping the people away from a potentially harmful substance, and the integrity of the investigation.
The act proposes giving ministry officers the ability to use flashing red lights on their vehicles as they pull over vehicles suspected of involvement in activities against the environment, including waste offences. Right now, officers can pull over vehicles but they can only do this by pulling alongside the other vehicle with a badge or when they happen to be riding shotgun with the police. With the authority to use flashing red lights, ministry investigators will have the autonomy and the credibility to safely pull suspected offenders over. They will also increase safety for other motorists when vehicles are stopped at the side of the road. A flashing red light increases the visibility of the stopped vehicles and protects everyone's safety along the road.
Like MNR and MTO officers, MOE officers would have to obey all traffic rules. The purpose of the red lights would be just to stop the vehicles.
One very important provision of the proposed legislation is the authority to seize the plates and permits of vehicles suspected of being involved in illegal waste activities. The current provisions are too restrictive. Seizure can only be done in cases involving liquid hazardous waste or cases where a continued operation could lead to serious environmental effects.
Ministry staff will be able to stop the continuation of offences such as illegal transportation of waste. If an unlicensed waste transporter has its plates seized, it will only be able to continue after the load has been transferred to a lawful transporter.
This gives the ministry a very powerful tool, something they haven't had before, in dealing with dangerous and repetitive environmental offenders. A primary objective of the authority to seize, along with other proposed amendments contained in the act, is the ability to seize the tools of the trade of dangerous and habitual offenders.
My colleague Bill Saunderson has already touched on administrative monetary penalties, so I really won't add too much to what he's already said. But one example of how these penalties could be applied is a licensed waste transfer station. Monetary penalties could be imposed to deal with such problems as dust or too much waste stored on that site.
Provincial officers' orders are included in the act to require the cleanup of wastes, to require that a facility obtain a certificate of approval or to require that a facility meet the terms and conditions of that certification.
These orders could also be used in conjunction with the seizure of plates. Following the seizure of the plates for, say, an unlicensed waste hauler, ministry staff could then order that the waste be transferred to a licensed hauler and only then could those plates be returned.
One of the biggest frustrations the ministry has had with respect to illegal waste operations is the restrictions on who they could go after. As the legislation now stands, only those who actually illegally deposit the waste can be charged for the offence.
Everyone knows there are more people than that involved, such as brokers who make arrangements for illegal dumping and tell transporters of waste where to put that load. There have been cases where people have put padlocks on property they don't even own and then have charged others a fee for the use of the property as a disposal site. Now, individuals who facilitate, arrange for or broker illegal dumping can be charged. Often, it's the people who don't dirty their hands with the actual waste who really are the dirtiest.
The provision in the act for orders to remove waste is also applicable to those people who generate and broker illegal waste. Again, the current legislation hasn't been applicable to those on the so-called periphery of waste offences. They are, of course, as much at the heart of the crime as are the people who physically do the dumping. Usually they're the masterminds using others to simply carry out their illegal schemes.
One of the greatest satisfactions with the proposed legislation is the authority to throw those who fail to comply with cleanup orders in jail. I think we all agree that the threat of jail time for some of those masterminds has the potential to put a real dent in their illegal operations.
One other way of getting at everyone involved in the commission of illegal waste practices is enhanced provisions for the service of summonses as proposed under the act. Existing provisions again only enable the ministry officers to hand out summonses to the drivers of the vehicles and not to the companies. We propose giving officers the authority to present summonses to drivers on behalf of the companies they represent. This too would give us greater ability to bring to justice the out-of-province or the out-of-country haulers involved in illegal waste practices in our province.
A major problem associated with illegal dumping has been its effects on innocent property owners. I think we've all seen evidence of this over the years. We've seen too many cases, for example, of the illegal dumping of tires on a property owned by an unsuspecting, law-abiding citizen. These victims have been left with a hefty cleanup bill and little recourse to collect, even if someone is convicted of the crime.
Right now, that recourse is suing the illegal dumper. This is obviously very difficult, costly and time-consuming for the victims. They're being made victims twice over by having to go through court action. The act contains provisions that would enable the courts to order convicted polluters to pay the restitution directly to the victims and save that extra step.
The forfeiture provisions of the act are another way to get perpetrators of environmental offences to pay up for the harm they've done. Again, it's a case of taking the tools of the trade away from those who break Ontario's environmental laws. For example, vehicles engaged in the commission of an offence could be seized. Following conviction, the polluter would have to pay all the penalties before getting those vehicles back. Failure to pay up would result in forfeiture. I think we'll all agree that's a great deterrent, something that's been lacking and something we needed to have added in this legislation.
I'll just take perhaps a moment to address something that the minister referred to in his remarks. It relates to an area in my riding, the area of Deloro. It certainly has been a problem for a number of years and has been of great concern to the residents of my area. I think it's fair to say, for the benefit of the members present, that I reside less than 10 kilometres from this particular site so I have been well aware of it. Actually, it's been ongoing for longer than I've had the privilege of being around. But I recognize that there is an immediate need to deal with this particular instance and this issue.
Just to give you a little bit of background, in the early 1980s the MOE did take action. It was under the same PC government that they chose to take action to contain the problem, and we did a lot of remedial work.
This problem, to go back a little bit further, was created over the last number of decades. It's been long-standing and actually was abandoned by the company that created the problem. There has been no recourse to make them accountable. If we had been in a different situation, the ministry would have had much more available to try and bring this thing under control and have them be held accountable for it, but nothing happened for the last 10 years since that first initial cleanup and containment action was taken.
Last year, as the minister mentioned, I, along with some of my colleagues, was able to have him visit the site. He had a first-hand view of the overall site with local residents, people who had worked there, not just ministry staff, to bring him up to date, to make him well aware of what actually happened there and the background on the site. Following that, we did initiate a process through the ministry. Studies have been ongoing and hopefully those results and the recommendations will come early next year.
Certainly the testing has tried to bring about a complete solution to this problem. We went beyond the site that's actually contaminated because we did want to assure the residents that if there was a problem beyond the borders of that particular property, it also was addressed. Once and for all we wanted to know exactly what we had to deal with and to provide the best possible solution. I want to say that it is a real relief to those residents that finally something has been initiated and will provide what we hope will be the final conclusion to this long-standing issue that has been a cloud handing over that particular community.
I might also say, though, just to make sure that no one has misunderstood, one thing that has been the case in that small hamlet is that there has never been a problem with the water supply, and tests have continuously determined that. There's always been quality water and there certainly has been no opportunity for any concern there. But it is great to see that something is coming about and hopefully that will be addressed when we have the final recommendations early next year.
I think I'll end my remarks there. I want to thank you for the opportunity to make a few remarks here about this new act, the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act. I'm confident it will be a very important addition to the Ministry of the Environment's ability, in my opinion, to administer environmental justice in this province and I think it's been long overdue. It certainly will help the ministry in its ongoing fight against illegal waste activities and lead to a cleaner, healthier environment in the province of Ontario. I think all of us in this House should support legislation that meets that goal.
There's no question this is legislation that I think needs to come forward and it's legislation that we need to support from the point of view that we need every tool we can to crack down on companies and individuals that are polluting Ontario's environment. But the great concern we have, and the minister made some reference to it, is that it really is going to be toothless unless there are adequate staff and resources to actually make this legislation something that can be enforced.
Regardless of what the minister may say, the facts are clear. Since taking office, Minister, your government has cut the Ministry of the Environment staff by 36%, 880-plus jobs, cut your budget by 42%, and particularly hard hit has been the compliance and enforcement branch, the fact that it's been cut from 97 to 70 staff in the past three years.
There's no question, Minister, that the legislation is something that we've been looking for. My colleague from Algoma had his private member's bill two years ago. Bill 24, was it? This is in essence a follow-up on that. We want to support it but we really think it's crucial for you to acknowledge that this cannot be an effective piece of legislation unless the enforcement capability is there. Clearly, it's not. You made reference in your remarks to the fact that there's been no real cut in staff; you made some cuts to administration. That just isn't the case. When you've got the compliance and enforcement branch cuts taking place as they have, obviously that makes a huge difference.
The truth is, you've been called on the carpet by the auditor, who has criticized the Ministry of the Environment in the past because of 226 air standards that were identified as needing to be updated in 1992 had not been updated. There's a variety of ways that you need to acknowledge that you haven't done the job. We hope that you'll recognize that this bill will not be effective unless there's the staff to make sure it's capably done.
However, I would like to go over a couple of the concerns that I have around the bill. Some interesting notes in an article called Nothing Left to Cut, which is a field report on the activities of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy. It quotes that since May 1996, field pesticide staff have been cut by 40%, eliminating positions in Peterborough, Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie, Chatham and Hamilton.
We're really concerned, and you will hear Mr Wildman highlight some of those concerns, about the inspections and investigations and who we have left to staff and enforce this piece of legislation. In fact, I might add that in my community of Sudbury and Nickel Belt this is a very important piece of legislation, especially around the environment.
I heard the minister tonight tell us that we shouldn't worry about inspections; in fact, we're going to increase staff. I'd like to briefly quote from the Toronto Star of December 1 where it says, "The Mike Harris Tories say they're thinking of dumping another 13,500 public servants on top of the 16,500," you've already dumped.
Minister, the concern we have about this bill is, who is going to be left to enforce it? We can talk about innovative ways, but we're looking at a ministry that's already been cut back to the bone, just like the Ministry of Natural Resources. Here we are tonight and the minister tells us, "It's going to be all right, we're going to add staff."
Minister, I hope you come true to that challenge, and I look forward to Mr Wildman's remarks.
For many years, and some time ago now, I remember the Premier saying that we're going to have the toughest environmental law but you are going to know where you stand and it's going to be enforceable. I think this bill is going to do that.
When I look at the illegal dumping that's taking place across this province and in my riding specifically, when I look at some of the old tire dumps that are on side roads, there is a need for enforcement to make sure it's cleaned up.
I'm sure that every municipality will be happy to see this piece of legislation. In my years on municipal council there was always somebody who would never clean up. It was a mess and the neighbours would complain and it was a real problem. Who had the jurisdiction? You'd go to the Ministry of the Environment and they didn't seem to have the tools to do it. I hope that this piece of legislation gives them the tools to do it.
The issue with regard to corporations polluting: I wonder what's going to happen, and it's really a question, if there's a bypass in a sewage disposal system that goes out into the bay. My information on this bill is that the fine is $100,000 for the first day and it could be $200,000 for the second day, so I'm sure that the engineers who are in charge of those facilities are going to try and make sure that there's going to be no sewage bypass into our waterways.
This bill amends the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Pesticides Act. I think the latter part may be the most important part of this bill, because there are many environmentalists who are concerned about the pesticides that we're using.
I remember that the Premier had so much confidence in this minister that he stole it away. He just got in and wrestled it away. Norm was standing there, he was tugging away with the Premier and the Premier wrestled away the Niagara Escarpment Commission from the only person I know in cabinet - there are a few others, but in cabinet - who cared about the Niagara Escarpment Commission. He gave it to the good old boys and the good old boys put their friends on the Niagara Escarpment Commission and now the sky is the limit. They're approving condominiums and a culinary school and all kinds of things. The sky's the limit. We'll have the Hilton and the Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson, everything on the escarpment. Ski developments, you name it, estate housing, you'll have all kinds of things on the escarpment.
I was hoping that this bill would at least apply to the Niagara Escarpment because I know of the member's commitment, my friend Norm Sterling's commitment, to preserving the Niagara Escarpment plan which he helped to develop. In fact, he was the provincial secretary for resources development when the plan was developed. In other words, he played a very significant role.
The Premier, seeing that the escarpment was going to be protected with Norm Sterling there, took it right away from him and plunked it down into the ministry of the exploitation of natural resources and there it lies.
I'm wondering if the member has any comment on that particular aspect of this legislation. I'll be interested in hearing it.
I understand the criticism but I want to assure the members of the Legislature that we do have the staff to implement this bill. As I mentioned originally, the number of investigative officers in the field has not been cut. That is a matter of record.
Unlike previous governments, which incidentally spent all the money so that we had to be in a position of actually making some savings in order for us to be able to deliver worthwhile programs to the people of Ontario, we are doing better with less. We are addressing problems which were not addressed by previous governments.
The Provincial Auditor brought forward a recommendation two years ago with regard to air quality standards. His criticism was not of the present government; his criticism was of governments for the past 20 years that had not revamped the air quality standards in this province. We are embarking on that. We are working on that. It is a difficult task, but we are doing it. Previous governments looked at things like the Drive Clean program, a vehicle emissions testing program, but they didn't have the courage to go ahead and do it. We are addressing the problems.
When you look at this bill, on the surface it's motherhood and apple pie. If someone came in from another jurisdiction and knew nothing about this province in the last three and a half or four years, knew nothing about what this government and this minister have done, they'd look at the bill and say, "Hey, this is wonderful." If you lived on another planet and you were dropped here in Ontario and looked at this bill, you'd say, "Hey, this is good stuff." On the surface, how can you argue against this? As I said, it's motherhood, apple pie and all the things that make Canada and America great.
The reality is that all it is, again, is this government and this minister talking the talk but not walking the walk. You have to look at the credibility issue; you have to look at the record of this government and this minister when you say, "How effective is this bill going to be?" When I listened to the minister earlier, I thought he was talking about a different jurisdiction or a different minister. He spoke as if he or his government haven't been in charge of the environment for the last three and a half years. It took two years to steal a good idea from the member for Algoma. You could have brought that in. The bill the member for Algoma brought in two years ago, you could have brought in as legislation then. But you failed to act. You had the opportunity, and you failed to act. Now we're within six months to a year of an election campaign and we're getting the deathbed confessions of this government when it comes to environmental protection. This is the conversion on the way to the next election campaign.
The reality is that your track record, Minister, doesn't give us any confidence at all in your ability to implement any of this legislation. Let's look at what others had to say. Forget the opposition. You may think we have an interest in criticizing you; you may think environmental groups have an interest in criticizing you because if they're trying to protect the environment, that's self-interest, according to your government. So let's look at what others have had to say about your record, your credibility as far as being able to protect the environment. How do we trust you and believe you're going to do anything differently now?
Let me quote from the Environmental Commissioner in one of her reports: "I regret to report that in the past year there has been little improvement in the actions taken by the provincial ministries towards protecting the environment." The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is not an interest group, is not an environmental group, is not someone who's out to defeat this government. Her own statements time and time again have condemned your actions and lack of action when it comes to protecting the environment.
What have you done since you've taken office? You have crippled or eliminated 13 laws and over 80 regulations that once were the basic framework of environmental protection in Ontario. You have weakened standards in many areas. I'll go through those in a second. When you look at this bill, on the surface it sounds great, but the reality is that you now have brought in, at the end of your mandate, this big tough guy, pound-your-chest legislation: "We're going to get tough with polluters. We care about the environment. We're going to go after that industry." But what you did in your first three and a half years was dismantle most of the standards and regulations that have been in place to protect the environment. So what regulations that are meaningful are left for you to enforce with these tough new penalties that you've brought in?
The regulations have been gutted. When you do that, how does this become effective? How does this work? It is like simply getting rid of speed limits in Ontario and saying: "You know what, folks? We don't have a problem with speeding any more." If you're not enforcing speed limits, you wouldn't have a problem with speeding any more. This is the approach you have taken to environmental protection in this province.
You have gutted the regulations. As I said, you have taken over 80 regulations that were brought in by previous governments, including the governments of Bill Davis, David Peterson and Bob Rae, and gotten rid of them. You have been told by the Provincial Auditor that there are over 120 air quality standards that need to be upgraded. Two years ago the minister promised it would be done within 12 months. What happened last month? The Provincial Auditor came back and said: "You've failed again. You have not changed or upgraded one of those regulations."
So on one hand you've got this total weakening and dismantling of regulations. On the other hand you have this total dismantling of the staff. We've spoken of the cuts that you've made. This government has fired 880 people who worked for the Ministry of the Environment since it took office. Your compliance and enforcement branch, whose responsibility is to enforce this legislation, has been cut from 97 to 70, a 30% cut in that particular branch. You have cut the Ministry of the Environment budget by $121 million. That is the largest cut, on a percentage basis, of any ministry in this government. It occurred in the Ministry of the Environment. The largest cut in staffing on a percentage basis and the largest cut in budget on a percentage basis have occurred to the Ministry of the Environment.
You want to talk about credibility in this legislation. It's a sick joke. You have no credibility. This minister, this Premier and this government have no interest in protecting the environment. You have no credibility. Frankly, Ontarians are insulted when they sit here and listen to the minister go on about what they've done - I'd like to know what they have done - to the environment. You insult the intelligence of Ontarians by standing up and trying to defend the indefensible. That is your brutal track record when it comes to the environment.
I challenge the minister or any other member to publicly debate us, anywhere, any time, on what you have done to the environment in the past three and a half years, because you have destroyed the basic framework of environmental protection. You have sold out. Environmental laws in this province are not made in the cabinet room; they're simply made in the boardrooms on Bay Street and then passed on to the cabinet to rubber-stamp. That is a record that you should be ashamed of.
It is not a political-philosophical agenda here. Bill Davis, a Conservative, brought in many of the regulations that you have dismantled because he understood that you need a balance in this province. He understood that you need a balance between business interests and the interests of the environment, because environmental protection is also health protection.
We're not talking about some distant hug-a-tree, save-a-lake approach here. I'm not talking about that type of environmentalism. I'm talking about the fact that environmental laws in the past 15 to 20 years in this province have been brought in primarily with the interest of protecting public health, because clearly, there's a link, established beyond a shadow of a doubt, between air quality and health effects, water quality and health effects. The link has been made; no one can question that. The legislation that was brought in by previous governments was not done for some feel-good motive. It was done because it was there to protect the health of Ontarians. This government has totally abandoned those standards.
When you listen to the government, who's right and who's wrong here? Are the minister and the backbenchers who have spoken right? If you've listened to them, they've done a wonderful job. What is the self-interest of the OMA, the Ontario Medical Association, in environmental protection? What motive would the OMA have to criticize this government when it comes to environmental protection?
What have they said? "Ontario doctors have made a diagnosis." They're talking about environmental protection here. "This is a health crisis. It needs major surgery, not cosmetic treatment. Self-regulating, voluntary standards are not going to work."
Again, that is not some environmental group out there; that is not an opposition member. That is the Ontario Medical Association. If you want to question their credibility, go ahead. If you want to question their motive, go ahead. I will not. I believe they are speaking on behalf of the patients that these 23,000 doctors represent.
Why have they come forward and criticized your government on environmental protection? Because they understand clearly that what you are doing is hurting and killing Ontarians through a lack of environmental protection. So the OMA is wrong and your government is right.
The David Suzuki Foundation: If anybody wants to question Mr Suzuki's credibility as an environmentalist, as a protector of this province, you go ahead and do it; I will not. His foundation came out with a report a month ago that deeply criticized your government's track record. The David Suzuki Foundation's report estimates that 6,000 Ontarians die prematurely every single year as a result of air quality. What do you do? You bring in legislation that toughens up the penalties but do absolutely nothing to toughen up the standards. The problem is not the penalties; the problem is your standards that suck. You've dismantled them, gotten rid of them. If you don't have standards, what good is this tough, pound-your-chest, Norm "Superman" Sterling approach to protecting the environment going to do? Absolutely nothing. That's probably flattering to the minister. So the Provincial Auditor is wrong.
Let me just understand: The OMA is wrong when they criticize what you've done on the environment; the David Suzuki Foundation is wrong when they criticize what you've done on the environment; the Provincial Auditor is wrong when he criticizes your lack of action on the environment; the Environmental Commissioner is wrong when she criticizes your lack of action on the environment; every credible environmental group in this province is wrong when they criticize your lack of action on environmental protection; Premier Harris was wrong when he criticized the Minister of the Environment for dragging his feet on Drive Clean, publicly berated him, beat him up because he had failed to act.
It goes back to a question of credibility. Is this simply a last-minute political face-saving attempt to try to look like you've done something?
Let me remind members of the government what Premier Harris, then leader of the third party, said on June 5, 1995. He said that you would find $6 billion in cuts in the Common Sense Revolution without one cent being cut out of the environment. That was Mike Harris, three days before the election, saying he wasn't going to cut one cent.
The government likes to spend ad money criticizing my leader for lack of clarity, as they claim, for not being definite. Let me tell you, you are right from the point of view that Mike Harris was definite. Mike Harris was definite when he said he was not going to close any hospitals in this province. We've seen the result. Mike Harris was definite when he said he was not going to bring in user fees. We've seen what he has done. Mike Harris was pretty definite and pretty clear when he said he was not going to cut one cent out of the environment. He has cut $121 million.
Is that the Conservative definition of clarity, honesty and integrity in government? Is that what that is, when three days before the election your Premier says he will not cut one cent out of the environment and then he cuts $121 million? You want to talk about credibility? You want to talk about commitment? It is an absolute joke. Your Premier's and your minister's commitments cannot be trusted. Your track record is clear. It is beyond dispute that you have committed that you were not going to cut one cent out of the environment, and you have cut $121 million. That's a hell of a lot of "one cents" that didn't come out of that.
When you look at the other areas of supposed environmental protection - let's look at water quality. What have you done? Again, you talk about standards and enforcing these standards. In 1991, there were 700 water-monitoring stations across Ontario; in 1998, there are 200.
When it comes to air quality, we know the OMA has estimated 1,800 people a year die prematurely; the Suzuki Foundation estimated 6,000. On peak pollution days in this province, there's an increase of 50% in respiratory admissions to hospitals. You have closed 40% of the air monitoring stations in this province. You have not upgraded over 120 regulations which the auditor has asked you to do. You have failed miserably.
One of the members on the government side spoke earlier about how people from different countries whom he spoke to talk about the wonderful standards we have for our environment in this province. What are we comparing ourselves to: Alabama, Central American countries, countries that have no standards? Is that what our base has become? Is that where we're going, challenging ourselves to the lowest instead of reaching for the highest? That appears to be the approach this government has taken.
Under previous governments, both NDP and Liberal governments, and particularly under Jim Bradley's term as minister, we could stand up to the Americans and go toe to toe with the Americans and say, "Folks, clean up your act," because we had done our job. The NDP did the same thing. This government has no moral or credible opportunity to go after the Americans for what they're doing to our environment because of what you have done. Most of your standards are now weaker than those of border states. How do you go to them and say, "Clean up your act on air quality. Clean up your act on emissions," when they look at us and say, "Get a life. Your standards are significantly lower than ours"? We've lost that moral and credible opportunity that we had, because of what you've done, to deal and play hardball. Your minister is too busy playing footsie with the Americans instead of playing hardball because we no longer have the credibility to go toe to toe with them.
It goes on and on. I look at my own community. In 1997, we dealt with the Plastimet fire. This was a fire that burned for four days. It was a company that was supposed to be in the business of recycling plastics, which, under your standards which you haven't upgraded or changed, does not require a certificate of approval. This company was storing plastics. A major fire occurred. There was an evacuation of 4,000 people. Firefighters have been ill and have fallen ill since the fire. Firefighters have been off work since the fire. We in the opposition and some of your backbenchers from Hamilton have asked your government time and time again to call a public inquiry into the Plastimet fire, not to lay blame but to ensure that we understand what went wrong and to put in legislation that will protect us in future.
Let me tell you, there were a number of recommendations from the fire marshal's office as a result of the fire. You've acted on very little of that. Frankly, there is nothing in place today, since the Plastimet fire occurred, that would prevent another Plastimet from occurring anywhere across this province. You have not strengthened one of those pieces of legislation that allowed that disaster to happen in Hamilton. You have done nothing to require recycling plants which deal with plastics to go after and get certificates of approval or compliance. You've done none of that.
Think about this. We had this major environmental disaster that grabbed headlines across this country, that burned for four days, and a year and a half later your government has not had the courage to change one piece of environmental legislation that would prevent another Plastimet from occurring. That's not leadership; that is gutless whimpering. You stand here and you talk about toughening up the penalties. What penalties are you going to enforce? What legislation? Why haven't you acted on Plastimet? Why haven't you toughened up the legislation?
I hope that in the opportunity to respond, one of the government members will explain to us and to the people of Hamilton why you have not changed one piece of environmental legislation that would help prevent another Plastimet fire somewhere across this province. Maybe you can explain to us the rationale behind that and relate that to this new legislation you are bringing in now. You can't go after people and polluters if you don't have the standards, if you don't have the regulations in place to enforce.
So if someone tomorrow opens up another recycling plant and says, "We're simply recycling plastic," and stores it, you have no way of stopping that. You have no mechanism for inspections and you have no mechanism for approvals by your ministry, because you've walked away from it. How does this penalty apply to someone tomorrow who wants to open up another Plastimet? How do these tough new penalties apply to those people since you don't have any standards to regulate that industry?
As I said earlier, this is an absolute sick joke to suggest that somehow this is going to improve environmental quality, environmental standards in Ontario. This legislation would make a lot of sense if you had the courage to toughen up the standards and if you had the courage to go back and reverse the 80 or 90 regulations that you've eliminated. Then you can show some leadership and credibility. But as long as you stand by your record of the last three and a half years, as long as you stand by and say that it's acceptable to dismantle the 80 or 90 regulations that we had, as long as you say that it's acceptable not to upgrade the 120 air quality standards that need to be upgraded, these penalties mean absolutely nothing. It is window dressing; it is whitewashing; it is simply an abdication of responsibility by your ministry, by your government, by your Premier. The people of Ontario are not going to be fooled.
We are now looking at deregulation of hazardous waste. Again, you talk about dump sites; you talk about hazardous waste; you talk about cracking down on illegal dumping. Do you know how many convictions you had in 1998 for tire dumps in the whole province? Ten. You had 10 convictions in 1998. That's it. What are you cracking down on? You don't have the staff or the regulations to go after illegal tire dumps. You've had 10 convictions for the whole province. On the site of the 1997 Brantford tire fire, there were eight violations, no operating licence, a court order to stop operations, and your ministry still took no action. And you knew about that. What about the hundreds and thousands you don't know about and you don't have the mechanism to find out about?
You talk about landfill sites and dumps and hazardous waste. You have regulations proposed that would deregulate a huge number of products that in the past were treated as hazardous waste and had to be treated as such and disposed of as such. You're looking at the deregulation of PCBs, storage and transportation of PCBs. Again, you've got these tough penalties, but on the other hand you're now moving to take away the standards and regulations to deal with PCBs. Your own Minister of the Environment stated a few months ago that it was acceptable to dump oil down the sewer, that it was OK. Norm Sterling said that it was fine; again, deregulating something that had been treated as hazardous waste. The list goes on and on.
Landfill sites: We saw the report about the potential problems at some of the landfill sites in the Toronto area a few days ago. What's your minister's response? "Everything's fine. Don't worry. Be happy. It's below the levels; it's below the standards." These standards haven't been updated in 20 years.
Environmental protection changes as we learn of new dangers, as scientific and medical information tells us of new chemicals and new dangers to health in regard to the environment.
Yes, regulations change, and the issues that government maybe had to deal with 10 years ago or five years ago are not the same as today, because we didn't have the information we have today. But once we have that information and we make the link, a clear, definite scientific and medical link between health and the environment, then it is unethical, immoral and irresponsible of government not to act and not to do its job of protecting the health of Ontarians, and that's exactly what you're doing.
The minister's response to the issue of the landfill sites: "Everything's fine. I'm not concerned." We asked in the House for his ministry to undertake air quality testing at every single dump across this province. What was the minister's response? "It's the responsibility of the municipalities, and if they let us know there is a problem, maybe we'll look at it." That is not leadership; that is not responsibility. It is not the job of the minister to act with such callous disregard, in an irresponsible manner, but that's what we're seeing here.
This government likes to hold Drive Clean as one of its achievements, if it ever gets off the ground. I can tell you that we have on record at least 45 occasions either in Hansard or in the media of one of two ministers, whether it was Minister Elliott before she got dumped or Minister Sterling, committing to Drive Clean. It was going to start in 1997, then it was delayed six months. It was going to start in 1998, then it was going to start at the end of 1998, and now we're talking about the beginning of 1999. This government can't even get it right. There are 38 jurisdictions across North America that have that program in place. You can't figure out how to run this program and now you've gone back to the original concept of simply having hundreds of thousands of outlets across the province doing this, because you can't figure out how to do it any other way. By the time you put in this program, what you're doing now is outdated.
There are better ways, which you refuse to look at. The state of Colorado is looking at technology now that would simply require cars under a certain year to be brought in to be tested. They would have roadside equipment that would be able to tell you which cars are a problem, that would be able to monitor that and enforce that by sending letters. Those are the types of technology that are available. Again, you're driven to just do something because you've screwed up so badly for three and a half years that by the time you get it in place, the program you have is outdated, but you hold this as your major achievement. It's taken two and a half years to get a simple program off the ground - this is not rocket science; this is not reinventing the wheel; it has worked in BC and in 37 American states - but it's taken three and a half years to figure out and you still haven't figured it out.
Now you go ahead and spend hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars, by the time it's over, on advertising a program that's not off the ground yet. You've got the cute little cartoon characters, cars, on TV every night, you've got newspaper ads, you've got your radio ads, advertising Drive Clean. Your whole budget for this program until it gets off the ground is $2 million. That's before you test the first car. It's simply to advertise this program: $2 million and you don't test one car.
You pride yourself on running government like a business. If this minister were a CEO of any corporation in this province, he would have been fired long ago. It is sheer mismanagement, sheer incompetence. We have seen this time and time again, and now you want us to believe that somehow this bill, a bill that the member for Algoma introduced two years ago, which took you two years to figure out, write in your own words and bring forward -
Now you want us to believe that somehow this bill is going to change all this, that somehow people are going to forget the three and a half years of environmental mismanagement and dismantling that has occurred under your jurisdiction. Well, it ain't gonna fly. It is not going to fly. People are not going to buy it. Ontarians are not going to believe you.
Why is this bill here now? I'll tell you why it's here: because the whiz kids in the Premier's office are starting to panic. They've realized that environment and environmental protection will be the sleeping giants in the next election. We know we're going to deal with health care and education and you know you're going to get wiped off the map on those issues, but now you're realizing that environmental protection is suddenly going to be important. The polls are telling you that; Ontarians are telling you that. So you rush out and you dust off an old piece of legislation, or a bill that had been introduced two years previously, and you bring that forward and say: "Hey, here's what we've done. We're going to have the toughest standards in the world, the toughest penalties in the world." Hogwash. Nobody will believe you. No pleading on the way to the election, no conversion on the road to the election is going to get you off the hook on this one. You can bring in any bill you want; it ain't going to fly. No one will believe you. You have no credibility left. Your Premier has not an ounce of credibility when it comes to environmental protection, and frankly, your Minister of the Environment doesn't even register any longer when it comes to environmental protection.
Very clearly, this bill is a sick joke on Ontarians. It does not address the real issues. It does nothing for environmental protection. It is clearly brought in as a last-minute, desperate attempt by a government that has failed miserably in not only protecting the environment but, more important, protecting the health of Ontarians through dismantling environmental protection.
It is indeed, as the member for Hamilton East has described it, a deathbed repentance or an attempt at a deathbed repentance. I lament for the Ministry of the Environment, which had become a very vital and important and strong ministry within government, being - I don't know if in 1998 you still use the word "emasculated" - emasculated by this particular government and its powers largely taken away, its authority taken away. It gets elbowed aside now by others, including pseudo-commissions that are out there.
My lament is for the Minister of the Environment, my good friend Norm Sterling, who I think probably wants to do a good job. Many will be critical of him. The critic for the Liberal Party was critical of the minister and I understand that. Critics will train their eyesight on the minister. I want to say that there's a bigger picture. My criticism is not of the minister. He simply has -
Now we have the Premier attacking the Minister of the Environment publicly over a program, when everybody knows it's not the Minister of the Environment dragging his feet; it's the Premier's office dragging their feet because they're getting some noise from their big business friends who did not want to see that program brought in. The easiest thing to do: Just as the Premier blamed the Minister of Health when the emergency funding wasn't flowing to the hospitals after it had been promised in the spring and it still wasn't flowing in the fall, he pointed the finger at Elizabeth Witmer and said, "You're to blame and I'm going to do something about this." he did the same thing to the member for Carleton. I knew he was not guilty. I know where the blame rested, and it's in the Premier's office.
I was hoping, as I said in some of my earlier remarks, that this bill would encompass the Niagara Escarpment Commission. The story behind the Niagara Escarpment Commission is that some of the mad dogs - that's a word we use but we really don't mean it that literally - who hated the Ministry of the Environment and who sit in the government caucus, some of those people said: "We've got to straighten out this Niagara Escarpment Commission. We've got to get some severances on that escarpment for our buddies." Mr Sterling, the Minister of the Environment, had responsibility for the Niagara Escarpment Commission. That happened under the Peterson government. It was taken away from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, where it didn't belong, in my view, and was assigned to the Ministry of Environment, because the Niagara Escarpment plan and the Niagara Escarpment Commission is all about protecting a real gem. The member for Dufferin-Peel knows that. He understands that. Some of his colleagues don't, they want to see development all over the Niagara Escarpment, but the member for Dufferin-Peel understands that and the Minister of the Environment understands that. So what happened? Mike Harris took that away from Mr Sterling and from the Ministry of the Environment.
There are two problems with that. The first is that he takes it away from the ministry of the Environment and gives it to the Ministry of the exploitation of natural resources. That's what that ministry is all about. Their clients are those who exploit natural resources. That ministry, MNR, is annihilated by government cuts - budget cuts and staff cuts as well. The Ministry of Natural Resources has been cut.
They took the one person, outside of David Tilson, on the government side who I think would have protected the Niagara Escarpment out of that position and gave it to the Ministry of Natural Resources. You knew that the appointments would come in and the good old boys, the friends of Bill Murdoch, would be put on the Niagara Escarpment Commission and the skyscrapers would be the limit.
There are a number of people, regardless of their political affiliation, who understand that the Niagara Escarpment is a gem. It has been declared by the United Nations as a very special area, a biosphere. It should be protected. If you want to put the Hilton in downtown Toronto, put it in downtown Toronto. I'd love to see development in our major cities within the confines of the urban areas of major cities. If you want to say I'm pro-development there, I sure am. I want to see lots of that going on within the confines of the urban boundaries of our major cities. That's exactly where it should take place, the urban renewal that takes place, the vitality that takes place. But you don't plunk it down on the Niagara Escarpment.
There's one decision that's been made, and of course when you change Environmental Assessment Board makeup and when you change the Niagara Escarpment Commission makeup, you're going to get people, if you are pro-development, who are going to start approving these projects, and you're going to have helter-skelter development all over the escarpment and you're going to ruin it. You can't go up there and tear down the Hilton or tear down the Holiday Inn or tear that golf course out of the middle of the escarpment. The Minister of the Environment loves golf, but I'm sure he doesn't want to see golf courses plunked down in the middle of the Niagara Escarpment.
What you had was the Premier taking that responsibility away (a) from the Ministry of the Environment, and (b) from the only person in cabinet who seemed to care about protecting the escarpment. That really showed the commitment of Mike Harris and his minions to the environment and to environmental protection.
The Ontario Medical Association has expressed its concern about how much inactivity we've seen on the part of the Harris government in the environment. The Provincial Auditor has been justifiably critical of the Harris government for what has happened. The Environmental Commissioner has seen many deficiencies within the ministry. The David Suzuki Foundation has commented adversely.
Is this the fault of the Minister of the Environment alone? Absolutely not. If you don't give the minister the resources, if you're cutting the ministry staff by 36% and the ministry budget by 42%, you can't expect the minister to be able to carry out his responsibilities as he or she has in the past.
The government can pass all the legislation it wants. If the ministry doesn't have the staff, doesn't have the equipment, doesn't have the resources and doesn't have the clout, it can't function as it should to protect the environment for the people of this province.
Who wants it protected? The general population wants the environment protected. But there's another group that everybody forgets, and that is those who are responsible business people, the people who have already spent the dollars on training staff, on putting in new equipment for abatement purposes, on changing processes so that they do not create contaminants in the first place, and who have set a code which must be followed by their company; in other words, good environmental actors, if I can put it in those terms. They are annoyed when they see other companies or competitors who want to break those laws, who want to cut the corners, who want the regulations eased, who want the legislation changed, because they have adapted to it. They've said, "We're prepared to be good corporate citizens, and the heck with those other people who want to break the laws."
Unfortunately, they had the ear of some members of the government. The so-called Red Tape Commission was set up. It's about as credible as the - what do you call those, the police commission? No. What is it they call it?
If you're going to set up a Red Tape Commission which is going to undermine the Minister of the Environment, how can you expect the Minister of the Environment to do his job properly, even if he wanted to? Our Minister of the Environment is both a lawyer and an engineer, so he could have the potential to be a good Minister of the Environment, but he can't be as long as they won't give him the tools to be able to carry out his job properly. That's what has happened with this Minister of the Environment: He hasn't been given the tools.
I'm told that the compliance and enforcement branch - the minister always nods no, but I'm told this so I believe it - has been reduced from 97 to 70 in the last three years. You can have all the laws you want; if you don't have the staff to enforce them and if they don't have the authority to enforce them and you've got the Red Tape Commission looking over their shoulder every time -
The member for Dufferin-Peel I suspect is agreeing with most of what I'm saying. He's either nodding in agreement or nodding off at my speech, one of the two. I can't figure out what it is.
I don't feel angry with the Minister of the Environment; I feel sorry for the Minister of the Environment because of what Mike Harris and the gang in the backrooms are doing in the field of the environment. I hope he wins the battle in cabinet when it comes down because all these decisions of significance have to come to the cabinet. I am confident that Norm Sterling - if I can use his name, because I've known him a long time - will be fighting the battle against development on the escarpment which will set a precedent, and there are those cases coming before the cabinet in the near future.
One thing the government is prepared to spend money on - I'll give them credit, if I can say "credit" in this case - one thing I will say is that they know how to spend on advertising. They are advertising like it's going out of style. I am waiting for the Taxpayers Coalition - I remember my good friend from Lincoln used to be the president. Was he the Ontario president, Tim, at one time of the Taxpayers Coalition? I'm expecting them to come out and say, "Mike Harris, why are you squandering over $50 million on government advertising -"
The member for Nepean must know the Reform Party people, so he must know -
Would I ever like to see that money spent in the Ministry of the Environment to give this minister the resources to carry out his responsibilities. Can you imagine what this minister could do in terms of making his legislation effective, bringing about compliance, with the $50 million that Mike Harris is squandering now on self-serving, blatantly political advertising? He could do an awful lot, just as he could probably, and you would know this, Mr Speaker, keep the Hotel Dieu Hospital open in St Catharines.
The member for Mississauga South is holding up something over there. She was a good critic on the environment. She must be totally beside herself when she sees the environment record of this government. By the way, I want to give her credit. She was being chauffeured by Hazel McCallion on the weekend. I want to congratulate Hazel on 20 years as mayor of Mississauga. In fact, I think it's this very night that Hazel McCallion is celebrating her 20th year as mayor. I want to extend my congratulations to Hazel, because I know she has been suitably critical of this government when it was necessary.
I want to say that the reduction in inspection and enforcement staff has resulted in a drop in charges against polluters; 683 charges were laid against polluters in the first 10 months of 1996 compared to 1,037 in all of 1995, a 21% reduction. Fines have dropped by 57%. In the area of tough environmental standards, in the 1996 auditor's report the auditor criticized the Ministry of the Environment because 226 air-quality standards that were identified as needing to be updated back in 1992 had not yet been updated. In 1998, the auditor found not one air-quality standard had been updated. But there would be no point in updating the standards if you don't have anybody there to enforce those standards.
Everybody thinks that only the Minister of the Environment is in charge of protecting the environment. If the government wants to protect the environment, it would also ensure that it continued to participate financially in the provision of public transportation, because a lot of what the minister may want to accomplish in the field of clean air could be accomplished if this government would continue to be an important partner in the provision of public transportation, instead of running from the scene.
The government can't be found any more. It used to provide 75% of the capital costs. In other words, if you were buying a bus for your municipality, 75% was paid by the provincial government, and the operating costs were shared generously by the provincial government. That's the provincial government's role. If you want to truly be a government that's going to clean up the air, you have to put the funds, the investment, into public transportation.
I know that in cabinet meetings the Minister of the Environment probably pleads with his colleagues to do so, but those pleas have certainly not be listened to by the backroom boys in the Harris administration. I suspect my friend Bob Runciman, who's here tonight, has supported Norm in these matters, but of course they can't all be quite that successful.
I want to say as well that the Ministry of Natural Resources enforcement staff has been cut drastically. I had a person who used to work for the Ministry of Natural Resources in my office about five or six months ago. I would say he's from a Tory family. Certainly I knew the family as always being Conservative supporters. This person had been turfed out the door by the Harris government because he was involved in enforcement. He did not have a very good opinion, and this is a long-time Conservative family, of this particular government. But I explained to him and said, "Look, don't be ashamed of the Progressive Conservative Party because they're not in power at Queen's Park; it's the Reform-a-Tories that are in power there." He felt somewhat better when he left the constituency office, knowing that it wasn't the party of Bob Welch and Tom Wells and Larry Grossman and Bill Davis, but instead the Reform-a-Tories that we see now.
I think there's a danger in the very attitude this government has towards the environment. There are just too many people in the government who didn't like the Ministry of the Environment, never liked it, and said, as George Wallace in the US used to refer to them, "those pointy-headed, pinko professors." That's what they seemed to think the environmentalists were, and they are the people who stand up to protect the environment.
Lands for Life: We have a situation where this government appears to be turning over the largest portion of this province to the lumber barons and the mining barons. They seem to want to say that we have these lovely forests here - we always talk about saving them in Brazil and Costa Rica and places like that, but in Ontario they seem to want to turn the whole province over to the lumber barons and the mining barons of this province. I get concerned about this. People in my constituency and in Etobicoke-Rexdale are worried when they hear this happening in this province and they want to see an end put to that giveaway of the lands to those who would exploit rather than protect our natural resources.
It was mentioned that the Minister of the Environment said at one time, and he will nod yes or no, that it was going to be OK to pour oil down the drain.
Another saying in the Ministry of the Environment, probably before you got there, Norm, was, "You are to be business-friendly." I'll tell you something: That sends a pretty ominous message to people in the Ministry of the Environment, when they're told to be business-friendly.
That's why I get worried when I hear the Red Tape Commission is poking its nose into the Ministry of the Environment and trying to supersede the minister and the Ministry of the Environment with these new rules and regulations.
I was reading today - you have to find some humour somewhere, Mr Speaker, in this House - something that said, "Ontario Ministry of the Environment key initiatives," and I was amused with this because many of the initiatives it mentioned were in fact backward steps in the environment. They gutted the environmental assessment process in this province. Now they say it's more efficient. More efficient means it's less onerous on those who want to propose a development. They have to go through fewer steps. There are fewer ministries commenting on it and as a result the chances of something bad happening in the environment are increased drastically.
It says, "We have introduced a more effective approvals process, including standardized approvals." I know what that means. A nod and a wink and away it goes, and that's not good. I know the other one was onerous, but I'll tell you, the member for Mississauga South, when she was the critic, would settle for nothing less. She was right on that occasion, and when she's in the cabinet meetings I hope she puts that point forward on the environment that she used to put forward when she sat on this side of the House. I am confident she would do that. I just wish they would listen to her, if indeed that is what she is doing.
I looked at the so-called accomplishments and most of them were backward steps. It says, "We turned over the responsibility for water and sewers to the municipalities," as if somehow that was an advancement, because we know many of them are going to have to privatize their systems. It could be like Britain, where it has been a disaster. Under Maggie Thatcher it was a disaster. Many of the people from Britain phone me and tell me what a disaster it has been. My relatives over there make sure they do that.
Another area I want to look at is agricultural lands. The Minister of Agriculture must know this. There is a new problem that's emerging. It has been there for a while, but it seems to contract and expand. That's urban sprawl and the turning of valuable agricultural land into development.
There are many areas in the province which can be developed: (a) you don't have the climatic conditions, or (b) you don't have the soil conditions.
But I look at the Niagara Peninsula - and the minister visits many times. He comes down to see my good friends Betsy and Peter Partington of St Catharines. Peter is the former member of the Ontario Legislature for St Catharines-Brock and, I might add, the chair of the finance committee of the Niagara region that criticized Mike Harris and the provincial government for downloading. That's just an aside. He comes to visit the Niagara Peninsula, and I think what attracts the Minister of the Environment and others from major urban centres are the large tracts of rural land. I think they would like to see that land preserved, yet day after day we see the pressures being placed on municipalities to expand their borders.
What I would like to see is an effort to have the downtown areas developed and redeveloped. In some communities which have deteriorated over the years, they would love to see the downtown areas redeveloped, but of course, as the minister would know - this is again where the Minister of the Environment needs help - with the new property tax bill they're bringing in, the big bank towers in downtown Toronto and the big box stores you usually see on the highways have got a tax break. Mike Harris has shuffled the deck and he sent out aces to them, and the poor small business people, many of whom are in the downtown areas, have had deuces dealt to them.
I'm saying that it takes a whole government's attitude, and I think this minister is entrapped in a government which not only wants to ignore the environment but has many members who are actively anti-environment, who are there to debunk what environmentalists will say about environmental issues out there. I hope he will speak out against this constant desire on the part of major developers to get their hands on some of the best agricultural lands, soil-wise and climate-wise, in this province and pave it over. I know that what you have to do to preserve that land is make farming viable. There are only two ways to do that: You either pay the price for the product or you provide assistance so they can continue to farm in an appropriate fashion. That's what I want to see happen.
With this bill, I go back to say as I did when I started out, it's better than a kick in the shins. I'm going to vote for the bill, because anything that's an improvement, even a baby step that is taken by this government in the field of the environment, is better than nothing. It may be just a chicken bone that the Premier has given to the Minister of the Environment allowing this legislation - the Wildman bill, as I call it - to pass in this House, but at least it's something.
I want to make Norm Sterling's evening by saying here's somebody in this House who has sympathy for the predicament in which he has been placed by Premier Mike Harris and who will continue to fight for the necessary staff, the necessary funding, the necessary resources and the necessary clout for the Minister of the Environment to carry out his responsibilities as I know in his heart of hearts he would wish to carry them out. I will vote in favour of this bill, as tiny a step as it might be, small improvement that it might be, and I will continue my fight, shoulder to shoulder with the Minister of the Environment, to secure the authority he needs to carry out his responsibilities.
I understand why he said that. I understand his concern about the cuts to the Ministry of the Environment, that when we've got about 42% fewer staff, it's going to be very difficult to enforce new regulations, and it doesn't really do a great deal of good to have regulations if they are not enforced, if there isn't the investigative staff and if there isn't the enforcement staff available to carry out the investigations, lay the charges, take the actions and take the polluters to court.
It's worse to pass legislation increasing enforcement mechanisms if the law is not enforced, because that then makes the law a mockery. People will be able to flout the law, and it's worse than if you didn't have the law. It's not good for law enforcement to have that kind of attitude grow about the law. If the law is simply something written on paper and it doesn't really mean anything in terms of stopping illegal haulers and people who carry out illegal operations in dumps, then it would be worse than if we hadn't gone ahead with it.
I am concerned about what has happened to the Ministry of Natural Resources as well as the Ministry of the Environment in terms of cuts to their budgets and their staffs. If this government carries out the threat, as it says it will, to have even more cuts, then enforcement will be even more difficult.
Since I'm responding to the comments of the member for St Catharines, it's very interesting, I must say, Jimmy, to say to you - the member for St Catharines, I say to the Speaker - do we remember the momentum that the Liberal government gave to the incineration of PCBs at St Lawrence Cement in my riding, and do we remember when you were Minister of the Environment and every two or three months when I was pressing you to bring out new air emission standards for this province, you were never able to convince your cabinet to do that, or do you remember the Hagersville tire fire, as a result of which the Liberal government introduced the tire tax, $5 per tire for disposing of tires, and never spent a single penny of that money collected for disposal of tires on a new environmental protection system for disposing safely of tires?
What one is left with is a concern that this is somewhat like a conversion on the road to Damascus. We're now approaching a certain time in the life of this government. They put forward a piece of legislation that they will then say: "Look, we're very concerned. We put forward this bill. It's a bill that will go a long way towards environmental protection." It's something they'll trot out in their campaign and say, "This is what we stand for," when the fact is that it may be virtually unenforceable. It's a very great concern that we have, and I think the fact is too that the people of this province will see that.
We've watched this government for the last three years dismantle its ministry staff, dismantle its compliance and enforcement branch. No matter what the minister says, those are simply the facts in terms of the numbers of people who are no longer there. They're no longer there. We know that the number of offences that people have been charged with has gone down remarkably as well.
People are very concerned about that. No matter what the minister says, people are concerned about that. There's a cut in the ability to enforce. There's a bill put forward that, yes, on the surface appears to be a bill that is a step in the right direction. But if it cannot be enforced and ends up only being a political tool, one that you can trot out and say, "This is what we believe we can do if you re-elect us," then people are going to be very cynical. Certainly we're going to make sure we watch it closely.
This government has done nothing but undermine that legislation since it got elected in 1995. Even though the member for St Catharines talks about how there's no point to upgrading standards without enforcement, and I agree with that, I think he has to acknowledge some of the failings of the federal Liberal government as well because they too have an environmental commissioner now, Brian Emmett. He came out with a very scathing report that talked about the federal Liberal record on environmental protection. He said they neglected to set clear and measurable targets, establish implementation plans or define roles for provinces and industry after signing on to environmental accords. This really puts the agreement that was made in 1992 in Rio in jeopardy. He says as well, "What really concerns me is that far too often the government is not keeping the promises it makes both to Canadians and to the world." That's the federal Liberal record.
Very clearly, when you look at this on its own, in isolation, it's motherhood and apple pie. How can you disagree with what is there? But you look at the bill in the context of the whole track record. You look at the bill in the context of the diminishing of the standards. You look at the bill in the context of the Provincial Auditor telling the minister, "You've got 120 regulations that need upgrading," and you haven't. Some 80 or 90 regulations that were in place were gutted by the minister, under his watch. At the end of the day, the two cannot coexist. You need the two for this to work.
This is a cynical election ploy to be able to stand up during the campaign and say: "You know what? We've done more with less." That's the minister's favourite statement: "We've done more with less." Well, you've done less with less, period. You have taken fines of almost $2 million in 1995 for environmental polluters and they have dropped to $850,000. Your charges have dropped; your prosecutions have dropped. Two things have happened. Either all of a sudden polluters totally cleaned up their act, or you've stopped enforcing the laws. The reality is, you've stopped enforcing the laws.
Minister, if you strengthened the standards, brought back the regulations you eliminated, we'd give you some credit for those types of changes. But this is nothing more than a cynical election ploy to try to get you over the hump and to try to mask over what has been a dismal record by your government in regard to protecting our health and our environment in this province.
I'm pleased to participate in this debate. I want to point out to the member for Mississauga South that there was indeed another Minister of the Environment between 1990 and 1993. That was my friend the former member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ruth Grier, who did a tremendous job. I want to pay tribute to her as my predecessor in that portfolio.
I must say that I'm of two minds about this legislation. Obviously, I'm pleased that the government has had a conversion on the road to the election. The minister has been blinded by the light of desire to finally come to grips with environmental polluters. He has decided to bring in legislation that will in fact increase the penalties and make it less attractive to treat fines as the cost of doing business. In that sense, I'm happy that the government has finally deigned to bring this kind of legislation forward.
But I'm also a little bit worried that this government will not have the staff available that is required to do proper enforcement. As I said a few moments ago, we then run the risk of having the law flouted by polluters who will then not feel that laws and regulations mean anything, because the government doesn't have the staff required to do the enforcement and to ensure that this stiffer law is in fact implemented.
When I say I am of two minds, I also frankly believe that plagiarism is the highest form of flattery. When the minister introduces a bill which is very similar and in some cases in some parts of the bill word for word the same as the bill I introduced, Bill 24, in 1995, which was debated in May 1996 and passed unanimously by this House, then I should be pleased, and I am. The government has decided to move forward on a piece of legislation that was brought forward in this House, debated by members from all sides and supported by members on all sides of the House.
I want to pay tribute to the MPP for Dufferin-Peel, who I think was instrumental during that debate in May 1996. He persuaded members of his caucus to support the bill rather than to vote against the legislation, because I think the member for Scarborough-Canadian Tire was in fact interested in voting against the bill during that debate and he was persuaded by the member for Dufferin-Peel. So I'm pleased.
The reason I introduced the private member's bill was to enable the Ministry of the Environment to crack down on offenders who continued to ignore Ontario's environmental protection laws, especially those who dump waste illegally across the province. I brought in legislation which would strengthen the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Pesticides Act.
The purpose of the legislation we have before us tonight and my private member's bill was to give the ministry tools to combat illegal practices of fast-buck artists who continue to dump on other people's properties and treat the current fines simply as the cost of doing business. Illegal waste haulers and dump operators are costing Ontario residents and property owners and legitimate waste management companies millions of dollars in cleanup costs and lost business. Their activities are undermining our province's attempt to limit the amount of waste going into landfill through our 3Rs program to reduce, reuse or recycle waste products and materials in Ontario.
The legislation that I brought forward and the bill that is before us tonight will reinforce Ontario's commitment to the 3Rs and level the playing field by ensuring that everyone in the waste management business will have to respect provincial environmental protection regulations. I think that's important, because as the former Minister of Industry and Trade, the member for Eglinton, pointed out, it is quite unfair for legitimate businesses to have to compete with those that are prepared to cut corners, break regulations and break the law to be able to charge less for their business. It's quite unfair and it makes the legitimate operators less competitive.
During the time of the NDP government, in July 1993 the government initiated a crackdown on illegal waste companies. The Ministry of the Environment set up a special task force which launched a series of investigations of every waste management company in the greater Toronto area. A RIDE-like inspection program for trucks hauling waste in the region was initiated. By the end of 1994, the ministry had laid 500 charges and issued over 15 orders to close down and clean up illegal dump sites, but some illegal operators continued to defy the provincial laws and regulations.
The legislation I brought forward that is now before the House under the minister's aegis would make it possible for the Ministry of the Environment enforcement branch to shut down these kinds of operators immediately, to seize licence plates, vehicle permits and equipment and to issue on-site stop-work and cleanup orders. Obviously, Ontario should not be a haven for environmental criminals.
Under the current law, the Ministry of the Environment cannot take effective action to clean up an illegal dump site. The ministry can only require the property owner or the previous owner, who may not have been a party to the illegal waste dumping, to clean up the site. In other words, if a farmer owns a piece of property and an illegal hauler comes along and dumps waste on his back 40 without the knowledge of the property owner, and then that illegal dump is subsequently discovered, under the current law the ministry would have to order the property owner to clean it up. If at some point the ministry discovered who had dumped the waste there illegally, there is no provision for giving restitution to the property owner and giving him the opportunity to recover the costs of the cleanup. Under this legislation that would be rectified because the courts could order restitution to the property owner for the cleanup costs.
The bill that I introduced would enable the Ministry of the Environment to order a company or a person who has dumped waste on land or in a building which has not been approved as a waste disposal or storage site to clean it up. In cases where the property owner has cleaned up illegally dumped waste, the ministry could order those responsible for dumping the waste to pay the cleanup costs of the property owner.
Also, both this bill and the bill that I introduced would significantly increase penalties upon conviction for offenders. The bill would increase the number of offences for which sentences to jail would be an option for judges to consider. I believe that this would be a powerful disincentive for polluters.
For too long we were able to prosecute the guy who was driving the truck, if he was caught, but not the person who had contracted with that truck driver to carry that waste and to dump it illegally, and this legislation hopefully will rectify that problem. I believe that these more serious penalties would demonstrate Ontario's determination to protect the environment from illegal waste haulers and landfill operators.
The experience of the Ministry of the Environment officials in the GTA in the period from mid-1993 to mid-1995 demonstrated that the Ministry of the Environment needs additional enforcement powers to protect our environment from illegal waste dumping and to ensure that those who flout provincial laws are stopped. The legislation that I introduced was an attempt to give the Ministry of the Environment those tools and to demonstrate Ontario's commitment to tough environmental law enforcement. Without that, the 3Rs program, which is strongly supported by most Ontarians, will continue to be undermined across the province.
In May 1996 the bill that I introduced to this House passed unanimously at second reading. That bill would have permitted the government to shut down law-breaking waste operations immediately and, as I said, to seize licence plates, vehicle permits and equipment and issue orders to stop work and begin cleanups. It would have brought in stiffer fines for polluters and would have required them to pay cleanup costs. That legislation would have levelled the playing field by ensuring that all waste management operators would have to respect provincial environmental protection regulation.
I was pleased in May 1996 that members from all three parties supported my bill to combat the illegal practices of the fast-buck artists who dump waste on other people's property. It's not often that members from all political parties in the Legislature agree on a piece of legislation. It's even more unusual when they agree to support an opposition member's bill and give it unanimous support in the Legislature. So I was very pleased. I must say I was not pleased when, after it passed unanimously in this Legislature, the bill languished in the committee and the government did not deign to bring it forward.
I'm glad the minister has decided to bring it forward, but I don't understand why his predecessor did not allow it to pass at that time so that it could have been in practice and implemented now. Could it be that it is now coming forward in November 1998 because we are headed towards the end of the mandate? The government feels vulnerable on environment because of the cuts to the Ministry of the Environment and the elimination of environmental protection regulations and it has decided to bring forward a bill that might be used to try and temper its image as being soft on polluters. Could that be? I hope that's not the only reason it has come forward. I hope it has come forward because the ministry is serious about getting tough with polluters, but that then raises some serious questions.
As I said, Bill 82, which is similar to my legislation and is in some cases even stronger - for instance, it allows enforcement operators to use flashing lights and so on - is a good move. But the real story is whether or not the ministry has been stripped of its enforcement, monitoring and inspection staff, and resources, to the extent that even with this legislation they won't be able to enforce the regulations that they have and implement this bill, Bill 82.
If the government had had the commitment to let the legislation I introduced pass, the people of Ontario would already have had tough environmental enforcement and the government would have been able to shut down law-breaking operations immediately, some of which have continued to operate for two years when they could have been shut down back in 1995 or 1996.
As I said, I'm happy to see that this government is finally taking an interest, finally listening to the concerns that we have raised consistently in this House about the need to strengthen environmental enforcement.
The government has slashed the Ministry of Environment. They've laid off 750 staff, when you look at the staff in the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources. They've cut the ministry budget by $150 million since 1995. Overwhelmingly, despite what the minister has said, these cuts have been to environmental monitoring and enforcement. Prosecution and fines are down over 50% since 1995 because of the cuts to enforcement staff in the ministry by the Conservative government.
Any environmental law is only as good as the staff and resources committed to enforcing it. This government has cut the enforcement staff. We know what staff are left in the investigations branch of the ministry are just scrambling to keep up. One members says that maybe there have been fewer violations. Well, that's possible, but the ministry doesn't know because they don't have the staff to monitor, to know whether violations are up or down, because of the cuts to support staff in the investigations branch. Frankly, I don't believe the Ministry of Environment is able to do the job or is doing the job. I think what this government has done to the Ministry of Environment and to the Ministry of Natural Resources is very unfortunate.
The government has cut something in the neighbourhood of 13,000 jobs across the total government in the civil service. The Conservatives are now saying they're going to cut another 16,000 jobs. When you see the effects on the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources now, and the fact that those ministries essentially are empty shells of what they once were, what are further cuts going to mean for the ability of the staff to carry out their responsibilities, to monitor what's going on in the province, to investigate possible violations, to enforce the regulations and bring charges against polluters?
I'm very worried about this. I'm not saying this just in a partisan way. As someone who has been involved in the Ministry of Environment and, for that matter, the Ministry of Natural Resources, I'm very concerned about the ability of the staff of those ministries to do the job. So while I appreciate the fact that the minister has brought forward this legislation today for second reading debate, and the fact that it is so similar to the legislation that I brought forward and that was passed unanimously in this House in 1996, I'm very worried about what it will actually mean if the staff is not available to carry out their responsibilities and to implement the legislation.
What good is it to say that we'll be able to have stiffer fines, we'll be able to seize plates, we'll be able to seize equipment and trucks, that polluters may have to forfeit their equipment, polluters will have to make restitution, will have to clean up, if we're just saying that, if it just says it on a piece of paper, if it says it in a piece of legislation but we're not actually making it happen? It doesn't do any good to have stiffer penalties if you can't enforce, if you can't bring charges, if you can't prosecute in court and you can't ensure that polluters are found guilty of their crimes.
I welcome the legislation, but I challenge the minister, I challenge the government to put their money where these words are to ensure that there are adequate staff and funds and resources for the ministry to implement this legislation; to ensure that we stop illegal polluters, that we stop illegal dumpers; to ensure that these illegal haulers, these illegal operations, these fast-buck artists are stopped; to ensure that the disincentive in this law is a real disincentive because it's enforced. Then it will be fair to legitimate operators, legitimate businesses, and we will have protected our environment.
I want to assure him that we can enforce these laws. I might say that under his government, when he was the minister, he had somewhere around 44 or 45 investigation officers in the investigations branch. There are now 44 investigation officers in that branch, at this day, right now. There has not been any drop with regard to number of investigation officers in the Ministry of the Environment. We were very careful when we were having to make the staff reductions, as a result of not having the kinds of resources that previous governments had. I can assure the member that in fact that has happened.
The difference between our government and the previous government is that we focus on results; they focused on process. They had a process for environmental assessment, for instance, that took many municipalities 10 or 12 years to get a landfill site. Now it takes something less than two years to go through that process. You might say the 12-year process was better. I don't agree. I think the two-year process is better.
The proof is in the pudding. The reports that are coming out now with regard to the environmental quality of our air and our water say that in spite of the climate change challenges we are facing, the air in Ontario is cleaner today than it was in 1994-95. The water is cleaner. The proof is in the pudding.
He stresses his comments a lot on staffing, in terms of who in the Ministry of the Environment will be out there to protect the environment. What we have seen in northwestern Ontario is that staffing cuts, particularly in the Ministry of Natural Resources, have certainly led to a lack of enforcement and a lack of ensuring that the Ministry of Natural Resources is actually protecting the wildlife, protecting the species out there. We're hearing figures of great amounts of dollars coming out of the Ministry of the Environment, a great number of staff cuts. The minister has just indicated that no, he has the same staffing. We have heard figures of cuts of as much as 36%. The member for Algoma had other figures in terms of staffing. I think we'll have to watch very carefully as to what the future will bring.
When you hear comments such as the World Wildlife Fund giving Ontario an F in its efforts to protect ecologically significant areas of the province, when you hear things like that being put out by groups that know of what they speak, you become worried. You start thinking about budget cuts. You start thinking about staffing cuts. You start thinking about the future generations and what they're going to face. Yes, there are a good number of things to worry about when we hear of groups like this giving the government an F for their effort, when we hear of staffing cuts as the member has indicated, a real genuine concern, not only for today but for the future in this province.
In my riding, when we go up through areas like Chapleau, for example, and we start talking to the reeve of Chapleau, we hear about some of the environmental concerns they have around the mills. What we're saying here today is, the bill is a step in the right direction; there's no doubt about it. The member for Algoma and his insightful research into environmental issues certainly helped us get to the point we are at today. However, the real shortcoming here is what we're going to do about enforcement. We're really concerned because in northern Ontario, for example in my area of Sudbury - Rayside, Balfour, Nickel Belt, Lively - we have pumped millions and millions of dollars into the regreening of our area. We need enforcement. The Premier of Ontario is saying another 13,000 public sector employees will be hitting the bricks. That was quoted in the Toronto Star. We are concerned. The issue here is about enforcement: Are we going to have the people to enforce this tough legislation?
What it comes down to ultimately is that it is one thing to put together a piece of legislation that hopefully will increase environmental protection, that will do some of the jobs in terms of catching polluters that need to get done, but regardless of what the minister continues to say, the cuts to staff at the ministry are true and they are simply a fact, and the cuts to the budget of the ministry are true and are a fact, and they absolutely are going to have an extraordinary impact.
One wants to be hopeful. One wants to be pleased that indeed there's a piece of legislation that we will support, but one hopes that we don't end up being very cynical about the process and seeing it only as being something that is there for the purposes of an election campaign that we all think is forthcoming soon so that they can say, "This is what we stand for," when for three and a half years we watched the government simply tear apart that ministry.
These are concerns that we have. We want to be able to support it. We want to be able to support it in the belief that indeed the enforcement is likely and possible. Our very strong feeling is that it will be very difficult to enforce these regulations the way the ministry has been left, and that being the case, we have some real difficulties.
I must say that despite what the minister says, the Provincial Auditor has made it clear that there are serious problems in the Ministry of the Environment because of the cuts and the inability of the ministry to carry out its mandate. The Provincial Auditor is not a partisan official. He's an individual who has the responsibility to look dispassionately and clearly at what is happening, and he has expressed concern about the Ministry of the Environment.
There have been other reports that have said that this jurisdiction, unfortunately - I regret very seriously - is one of the worst polluters in some areas in North America.
The member for Kenora points out that 30% of the staff at the ministry has been cut, so if we had difficulty meeting our mandate before, it is even more difficult now, despite what the minister says.
As the member for Nickel Belt said, this is a step in the right direction, and I want to sincerely congratulate the minister for bringing forward this legislation. I want to congratulate the staff of the ministry who have worked on this for many years in terms of the research, the drafting and the work that was done as a result of the initiative back in 1993 when we got tough on polluters and illegal dumpers in the GTA and found that new regulations and approaches were going to be needed for enforcement. I just reiterate, we've got to have the staff, we have to have the resources and we have to have the commitment to enforce this legislation or it would have been better not even to have passed it.
The legislation that protects Ontario's air, water and land is strong, and the ministry has worked to the best of its ability to ensure compliance with that legislation and to enforce it. Unfortunately, even the best efforts can come to naught when your hands are tied. Such has been the situation facing the Ministry of the Environment in many cases.
Earlier in the debate, my colleague the member for Hastings-Peterborough mentioned to you several instances of how the ministry is prevented from working to its full potential when it comes to compliance and enforcement. One of the examples he used was the ability to seize plates and permits of vehicles that are suspected of being involved in offences against the environment. Ministry staff need the ability to seize plates to prevent offences from continuing or from happening in the first place.
The member for Eglinton also gave you a case example of an illegal waste operator who was able to continue his offences because he knew the ministry couldn't stop him. There are several proposals on the table with the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act that would help prevent such activity from continuing. The provisions for seizure, forfeiture and so on would have been effective tools to have had when the offences listed by Mr Saunderson occurred.
It's true that the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act gives the ministry increased authority and powers. One thing I'd like to stress is that we've gone to great lengths to ensure that these increased abilities are balanced by safeguards that ensure that everything we've proposed is in keeping with the Charter of Rights.
For example, there will be very high standards that must be met for obtaining court orders for the use of modern investigative aids such as electronic tracking devices and tracking substances. Ministry investigators will have to satisfy the court that they have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence is being committed or is about to take place.
We're not going to be running out and putting devices on every waste hauler in the province. That's not our intention. It would be unfair to the honest, law-abiding operators who follow the rules. Our intention is to be fair to the honest operators and to be tough on the dishonest ones.
Safeguards are also built into such proposals contained in the act as administrative monetary penalties, provincial officer orders, the prohibition to deposit waste and directors' orders to remove waste. In the cases where we're giving the courts greater authority, such as higher fines and a longer list of jailable offences, the existing safeguards apply. Fines and jail terms imposed by the courts may always be appealed. All the usual safeguards of the judicial process will also apply to such provisions as forfeitures and seizures.
I would like to take this opportunity to urge all of my colleagues in the Legislature to vote to pass the Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act. When you listen to the comments that have been made from those speaking on both sides of the House, we all recognize the importance of providing in this legislation the kind of balance that will ensure that those who are the businesses who act responsibly in the environment and in the pursuit of their business are not hampered, and that those who choose to go against these regulations will be dealt with effectively and through due process.
It seems to me that all of us in our own ridings have examples of situations which require the kind of legislative teeth that this act brings us. What we are looking at then is an opportunity to see better environmental protection. We all want to see justice for all those who break the law and threaten our air, water and land; and we all want to see those who play by the rules get their fair shot at prospering.
The minister has made reference, and so have several people commenting this evening, on the question of the ability to enforce. I would just like to take this opportunity to refer back to the fact that the ministry has not laid off any field investigators. Those people and our government are committed to maintaining and enforcing those environmental standards.
This piece of legislation makes it absolutely clear that this government is committed to maintaining and enforcing environmental standards, which will be done by focusing on activities that enhance environmental protection and produce real environmental benefits.
We will continue to be tough on polluters. This management practice affirms this. We are ensuring that the true environmental offenders won't escape scrutiny.
The Environmental Statute Law Amendment Act will help the government achieve these goals. For this reason, I believe it is an excellent piece of legislation that deserves all of our support.
The House adjourned at 2131.
top | new search