Ontario Liberals defying environmental rules

Ontario's environmental watchdog says the Liberal government is defying the will of the legislature and ignoring the public's right to be involved in the development of policy.

The Liberal government is defying the will of the legislature and ignoring the public's right to be involved in the development of policies to protect the environment, Ontario's environmental watchdog said Wednesday.

"It astounds me to report on the degree of disregard and contempt that is shown to statutory requirements of the Environmental Bill of Rights," Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller said as he released part one of his annual report, Losing Touch.

"Various ministries persist in hiding environmentally significant decisions from public scrutiny and comment in open defiance of the clear intent of the statute."

Miller said he was not pleased with the way staff at several ministries deliberately stone walled people who requested information they were entitled to have about government initiatives that impact the environment.

"Perhaps it is understandable that the ministries are no longer referred to as the civil service because there is nothing civil about the way citizens are often treated when they exercise their legislated right to file a request for investigation or review," he said.

"Making citizen applicants wait 252 days for an answer that the legislature has indicated must be provided in 60 days is not civil behaviour."

Several ministries are ignoring the requirements of the law and developing far-reaching plans, policies and programs without properly notifying or consulting the public, added Miller, who singled out the Ministry of Natural Resources as a "chronic" offender.

"The most egregious example is MNR's attempt to shield the Provincial Wildlife Population Monitoring Program from public review," he said.

"The ministry's behaviour is all the more offensive because the plan itself is inadequate in meeting the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act and the Crown Forest Sustainability Act."

The opposition parties said hiding information is typical of the Liberal government, and pointed to their current fight to get the Liberals to release the cost to taxpayers of their decisions to cancel electrical generating stations in Oakville and Mississauga.

"I think he was being generous when he called it Losing Touch. I would have called it Lost Touch," said Progressive Conservative critic Michael Harris.

"This government continues to keep Ontarians in the dark on the costs and benefits of legislation, and they don't want people to know the negative aspects of some of these things."

The New Democrats called Miller's report "another scathing indictment" of the Liberal government.

"I think the commissioner has highlighted an emerging trend that we have seen for some time," said NDP critic Jonah Schein.

"The government is serving their own interests rather than the interests of the people of Ontario."

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the Liberals were deliberately undermining the environmental Bill of Rights.

"This lack of transparency and accountability in my mind is dangerous," said Schreiner.

"And I think it's wrong to trample on citizens' rights to participate in talking about legislation that effects the health and well being of communities."

Miller was also highly critical of the Ministry of Energy for failing to post a full proposal notice on the Environmental Registry when it announced a review of its controversial Feed-In-Tariff program for green energy projects.

The commissioner concluded that members of the public service are ignoring their responsibility to support and implement the will of the Legislative Assembly.

"It is deliberate and documented. This is not something casual and accidental," he said.

"It's up to the legislative assembly to talk about contempt within the context of the legislature, and it's up to the Speaker to rule on it."