Recent Media Coverage

Government whip uneasy with new wildlife regulations

By Andrew Reeves

QP Briefing

June 4, 2013

Government whip Donna Cansfield has reservations about the latest regulatory changes to the Endangered Species Act but is hopeful enforcement will be tough enough, she said Monday.

"It depends on what priorities you have in place," the former natural resources minister said in an interview.

"For me it was the species. I believe and I won't change my belief that our first obligation is to protect this good earth. I think we have a sufficient knowledge and sufficient capacity to ensure that these species are protected and we don't lose them," she said.

"Will I walk away feeling absolutely comfortable with the [regulatory] changes? No, not at all. But I understand and I'm hoping that there will be enough oversight and enough scrutiny ... to ensure that species are not put at risk more so than they currently are."

Changes to the legislation adopted by cabinet May 31 include a five-year exemption for forestry sector companies for all activities conducted on crown land before July 1, 2018. The new rules allow forestry companies to kill, harm or harass wildlife, such as the threatened woodland caribou, or destroy habitat as long as they meet one of several broad criteria to address that loss of life or habitat.

It also provides broad exemptions for pits and quarries, renewable energy, hydro, mining, infrastructure development, waste management, and commercial and residential development.

The Liberal government is also coming under fire from environmental groups across the country for what they say are sweeping exemptions to the Endangered Species Act.

Ontario Nature joined the Sierra Club of Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation and Earthroots in condemning the government's "abdication of its responsibility to protect and recover Ontario's endangered plants and animals," according to Anne Bell, conservation and education director at Ontario Nature.

"They have turned their backs on the province's most imperilled wildlife, and at a time when the federal government is poised to do the same," Bell said.

Earthroots executive director Amber Ellis called the scope of the exemptions "appalling."

"The government has caved to industry and turned a deaf ear to all who believe in society's duty to protect endangered species."

But the government continues to retain a very high standard for protecting species at risk and their habitats, something with which industries of all stripes must comply, said Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti.

"I won't speak for industry but I think if you ask industry [they] did not receive the changes to the legislation that they preferred," he told QP Briefing.

"So while you suggest to me that some environmentalists are concerned about the changes, I would say to you that we did strike the right balance on the implementation of this legislation that will make it more effective."

Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner called this the first failure of the Wynne government on the environment file, a "short-sighted attack" that also calls into question the Liberals' commitment to clean water, farmland and habitat protection.

"The rules are already stacked against community groups fighting to protect natural heritage," Schreiner said in a statement. "It is appalling that the Liberals are once again putting private interests ahead of good public policy."

Orazietti said increased costs in implementing the Endangered Species Act or ministry budget cuts were not factors in why such large exemptions were granted.

"Absolutely not. The plan to streamline the ESA is not in any way being driven by fiscal challenges facing the government," he said. "There are a number of changes to the ESA that will make it more effective for those in the environmental community to assist with habitat protection, for example."

But Bell and her associates point to a study4 by Spatial Informatics Group LLC commissioned by the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2009. It found the value of ecosystems services in southern Ontario, such as pollination, soil retention and flood control, to be worth an estimated $84 billion annually.

"Goods and services provided by functioning ecosystems contribute to human welfare, both directly and indirectly, and therefore represent a significant, yet often uncounted, portion of the total economic value of the landscapes we live in," said report author Austin Troy, principal with SIG.

"Wise management of this asset demands careful government oversight and enforcement of environmental laws and policies, not environmental deregulation," Bell said.

"Society simply can't afford to continue to lose species and degrade the natural environment."



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