The downfall of the Ministry of Environment

The Ministry of Environment is not doing its job properly, Gord Miller, environmental commissioner of Ontario (ECO), told students at Durham College and UOIT.

About 30 students attended the speech and Q&A in the Dr. Peter Zakarow auditorium, in the UOIT science building.

Miller spoke with students on November 18 about his recent annual report: Managing New Challenges.

In the report, Miller spoke about topics such as commercial logging in Algonquin, bee pollination, sustainable farming, Chemical Valley pollution, and water prices.

Miller mentioned how bees are becoming endangered species and that pollinators are in decline.

He also spoke briefly about how it is against the law to harvest timber in provincial parks or conservational reserve but there is a clause saying Algonquin Park is an exception.

Miller says these policies need to be changed.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources needs to end commercial logging in Algonquin Park, he says. “If you want it to be a park, than it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Miller is an officer of the legislature appointed by a vote of all MPPs, however he says he has “no political or vested interests.”

The ECO oversees 13 environmental sectors including work within the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources.

Miller says he is the “environmental watchdog,” and refers to himself as a Dr. Seuss character.

“I am the lorax, I speak for the trees,” he says.

As part of his job, Miller says he takes action against ministries when they don’t do their job.

According to Miller, there are three categories of punishment that ministries are supposed to issue to companies that cause environmental harm.

The first is voluntary, where a company has a good compliance history, and it is to volunteer its information, and no legal action is taken. The next is mandatory, where a company is mandated to do something, and the third is enforcement where a company will be fined, and this usually happens if it has continuous convictions or environmental penalties.

Chemical Valley, in Sarnia, Ontario, is home to 62 industrial facilities and oil refineries.

The Ministry of Environment, according to Miller, needs action against it for not giving Chemical Valley a warning when it didn’t sound alarms when there were toxins in the community causing harm to its residents, which requires a mandatory punishment.

The ministry is consistently allowing the companies within Chemical Valley to get away with oil spills, and harmful air pollution that causes respiratory and cardiovascular health issues, says Miller.

The ministry needs to use a firm hand when dealing with these companies, Miller says in the report.

“They seem to be stuck up in the corner of voluntary, there is an ongoing violation and are never resolved. Do your job, get on with it,” he says.

Miller says he recommends the ministry enhances its efforts to eliminate the adverse effects of the facilities within Chemical Valley and he will be pushing for an investigation by the ministry through the Environmental Bill of Rights.

According to Miller, ignoring problems until they go away is a common way for ministries to resolve problems, especially for the Ministry of Environment.

This is where Miller says he steps in and brings problems with the ministries to the legislative government.