A celebration of The Environmental Bill of Rights

Archived Release

A celebration of The Environmental Bill of Rights

An editorial by the Honourable Leona Dombrowsky, Minister of the Environment TORONTO, Feb. 13 - Every year for the past decade, thousands of Ontarians have exercised their rights under one of the most effective pieces of legislation in Canada. The Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), the only law of its kind in Canada, is marking its tenth anniversary. Now, after ten years of experience with the law, it's an appropriate time to reflect on its importance. Since it came into effect on February 15, 1994, the Environmental Bill of Rights has done more than just enshrine environmental values in legislation: it has given citizens the means to make their voices heard. It provides basic rules for public participation in consultations, government accountability, access to the courts and whistleblower protection. The McGuinty government shares these values. We have brought about real, positive change in environmental protection by involving the public in consultations that shape our policies. Most recently, we've sought input into our far-reaching White Paper on watershed-based source protection. Related actions like our moratorium on permits to take water and the hiring of additional water inspectors show that we are committed to protecting human health and the public's right to a clean and healthy environment - and that we expect that others to do the same. In North America, only Ontario and Pennsylvania have an Environmental Bill of Rights. More jurisdictions could benefit from the principle of allowing citizens to play a more effective role in environmental protection. Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights has gotten citizens involved in the process. Under the EBR, the public must be notified about proposed policies and legislation that could have an impact on the environment. Ontarians have certainly taken advantage of their role. The EBR established the online Environmental Registry, which currently holds over 16,000 consultation and final decision notices relating to a wide range of environmental activities. More than 4,000 people visit the Registry site in an average month. Perhaps the single most important element of the Environmental Bill of Rights is evident in the name of the Bill itself: a healthy environment does not just involve a set of standards to be enforced - it is a basic right. The McGuinty government believes that people have a right to safe, clean, liveable communities. People have a right to breathable air, clean water - all the elements of a healthy quality of life. Creating and protecting a healthy environment is a shared responsibility. Only by working together - sharing our collective responsibility - will we ensure that our natural environment and our communities are as clean and healthy as they can be. One of the great provisions of the EBR is the network of tools and services that holds everyone - government, industry and ordinary citizens - accountable for their actions. The Environmental Commissioner is the office established under the EBR to ensure we have that accountability, and to ensure that the Bill is enforced. The Commissioner closely scrutinizes government practices to encourage transparency and accountability. None of Ontario's three Commissioners has been shy about criticizing previous governments when it was felt necessary. The EBR has expanded our understanding of our rights as citizens, amended the very definition of good government, and empowered every person in this province to expect and demand proper consideration for the environment. It has been an effective tool for the people and the government of this province to ensure that as our communities grow, our environmental protection is always a consideration. By protecting and preserving our environment, the McGuinty government is working to provide Ontarians with a quality of life that is second to none.For further information: John Steele, Communications Branch, (416) 314-6666; Art Chamberlain, Minister's Office, (416) 314-5139