The other issues that the Urban League of London focused some attention on was schedule 9. Schedule 9, of course, is the schedule of the bill that makes significant amendments to a number of pieces of environmental legislation, and in particular, it amends the fines that polluters will face if they violate certain environmental provisions and it broadens the system of administrative monetary penalties and it puts a cap on the maximum monetary penalty that a polluter can face.
One of the members of the Urban League of London is called Antler River Rally. This is a very small community-based organization that has been working to improve water quality in Deshkan Ziibi, which is the Indigenous name for our local Thames River. Antler River Rally has pulled hundreds of tonnes of garbage out of the Antler River, worked with hundreds of citizens and community partners to improve river habitats and water quality.
Antler River Rally is completely opposed to schedule 9 of this bill because they recognize that letting polluters off the hook is putting our waterways at risk. They are advocating for legislation that will “restore our natural heritage, not aid in its destruction.” As the seven grandfather teachings tell us, Antler River Rally “believes that Ontario rivers, streams, habitats and environmentally important areas are not ours to plunder but ours to protect for future generations.” So Antler River Valley is opposed to Bill 132. They “encourage the government to go back to the drawing board and create legislation that is environmentally responsible and just.”
Another organization that appeared before the committee in London is Nature London. I already mentioned some of Dr. Gordon Neish’s testimony, but one of the other issues that was raised by Nature London is around the changes to the Pesticides Act and the concern that the proposed changes will provide the opportunity to open the door to undoing the cosmetic-use-of-pesticides ban that was implemented in 2009.
Speaker, as a school board trustee way back around 2004 or 2005, we had an issue with the cosmetic use of pesticides on our schoolyards. I was very proud as a school board trustee to bring in a motion to the school board to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides on school board properties. I was really pleased when shortly after, the city of London also implemented a municipal bylaw on the cosmetic use of pesticides. But it shouldn’t be up to a municipality here and a municipality there. It was clear that this was not the way to protect children, to protect families, to protect citizens from potential health risks associated with pesticides. We needed a standard provincial approach, and so it was a very important step forward in 2009 when the cosmetic-use-of-pesticides ban was brought in.
And now, with this bill, with Bill 132, we see the potential for that change to be reversed. This bill, Bill 132, eliminates the Ontario Pesticides Advisory Committee, and that is a huge concern to environmental activists, to families who are concerned about health and access to nature. It has the potential to turn back the clock. We don’t need to be turning back the clock in the province of Ontario.
One of the other issues that Nature London raised was around schedule 16 and the changes to the Aggregate Resources Act. They made a very interesting point. They pointed out that “many of the changes in Bill 132 to the Aggregate Resources Act were included in a September 20 notice on the Environmental Registry of Ontario. However, even before that consultation closed on November 4, the government put changes into proposed legislation on October 28, meaning that the government put the changes on the table before the public commentary was completed. This is highly problematic and a little bit underhanded.... Further, the changes to the ARA represent a move to take municipalities out of the aggregate decision-making and weaken the safeguards in place to protect local groundwater and communities.”
Are we surprised? Are we surprised that the government ignored its obligation under the Environmental Protection Act, under the Environmental Bill of Rights, that they put something out for public consultation and then wrote legislation before the consultation period had even closed? Sadly, Speaker, we’re not surprised, because we saw the Auditor General yesterday slam this government for its complete lack of accountability to its obligations under the Environmental Bill of Rights. Not even the Ministry of the Environment is complying with the Environmental Bill of Rights, so why should other ministries comply? I guess that’s the view over there. Nobody seems to be in charge. Nobody seems to care about whether they’re complying with their environmental obligations. Certainly that was identified by the Auditor General, that across the board—across the board—all the ministries in this government uniformly display a lack of respect for legally mandated requirements under the Environmental Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, I guess it wasn’t a surprise that the government would do this, but it is a huge concern.
My colleague the member for Waterloo talked about the fact that the changes that are proposed can override decisions that had been made by municipalities. That is a very dangerous precedent that we are setting, when municipalities are charged with source water protection and the province can just swoop in and override municipal decisions—decisions that are being made in the best interests of the local people who reside within that municipality.
I just want to conclude with a couple of observations that were made by presenters to the committee about the negative economic impact of these changes that are being made in Bill 132, which is purportedly to reduce red tape and make things better for certain people in the province. Skylar Franke from the London Environmental Network talked about the impact on local businesses that rely on ecotourism or rely on access to our waterways, our rivers and other natural areas in the city. She said, “The economy relies on having healthy resources and people. By making it easier and cheaper to pollute, the bill allows for more destruction of ecosystems and resources that our economy relies upon, like clean drinking water, the tourism industry, the commercial fishing industry and many other local industries that rely on the government to enforce environmental violations to protect their businesses.”
She gives the example of a local business called LondonSUP, which is a stand-up paddle board shop. She says LondonSUP is “probably going to be closing their shop because not enough people are buying the recreational devices to go on the water, because they’re not allowed to go on the water because there are algae blooms.” The changes that are being made in this bill will make it even more likely that we’re going to see more algae blooms as polluters can just write off spewing toxins into our waterways as the cost of doing business.
I am a little out of time, but I wanted to make one more very important point: We talked a lot about the fact that the per-day penalties are being replaced with a per-contravention penalty with a cap of $200,000, and how this is going to minimize the deterrent potential of that cap. The representative from the Canadian Environmental Law Association said, “In my experience, it’s very rare for a maximum AMP to be imposed. Usually the AMPs are on the lower end of the scale, so I don’t think we should pretend or delude ourselves into thinking that the Ministry of the Environment ... will be ready to issue $100,000 or $200,000 AMPs each and every time. I fully expect that even if they’re imposed”—because the AMPs are now voluntary—“the AMPs will tend to be on the low end of the spectrum.”
Speaker, this bill is not good for people. This bill is bad for people, and it is also bad for our economy in the province of Ontario.