Ontario environment head urges strengthening Endangered Species Act
Ontario's 183 at-risk species could be further threatened if the government doesn't strengthen its new Endangered Species Act, environment commissioner Gord Miller said Monday.
Miller released a report reviewing the act, which took effect last June 30, and said the province could lose some of its more iconic creatures — like the monarch butterfly and woodland caribou — if more care isn't taken in protecting them.
"There's something permanent about extinction that insults the morality of humankind," Miller said.
"This is serious business. The conservation of biodiversity should be a priority for all governments, yet in Ontario, there is no law which obligates the government to even monitor biodiversity, let alone conserve it."
Miller didn't provide any examples of species that have been affected in the seven months since the new act was brought in, but he said he's concerned about the flexibility written into the law, which could create problems down the road.
The government has the power to write regulations that override protections in the act, and issue permits and agreements allowing species and their habitats to be destroyed, Miller said.
There are also only vague requirements dictating what must be done after recovery strategies are drafted, he added.
"The broad discretion involved in these decisions, if not exercised with great care, could have the troubling potential to significantly undermine the law's basic purpose of species protection," Miller said.
"Therefore the law's success … will significantly rely on how the minister's discretion is exercised."
It's also troubling that it will take five years before habitat protections are provided for species that weren't covered under the previous act, Miller said, unless the government drafts specific regulations to protect them.
He also called on the government to post more information about plans that affect species at risk on the provincial environmental registry, so the public can comment on and protest any changes that might be objectionable.
"The public is (being) denied the right to open, transparent and accountable government decision-making related to these approvals — approvals that harm the species at risk," Miller said.
"This failure is disappointing, but it could easily be remedied."