Omnibus Bill-197: An Attack on the Environment and Democracy
By: Nick Nesbitt
Authors Positionality Statement: My name is Nick Nesbitt and my pronouns are he/him/his. I am presently located in Collingwood, Ontario, the traditional land of the Petun, Anishinabewaki, Huron-Wendat, and Mississauga. Throughout my writing, I do not intend to speak on behalf of BIPOC communities, but will use my voice to bring attention to matters that disproportionately affect underserved communities, lands, and people. I want to acknowledge my own privileges as a settler in what is currently Canada, and emphasize my commitment to Etuaptmumk (Two-Eyed Seeing). My goal as an ally is to reduce environmental injustices through encouraging climate action and demanding political accountability. I want to mention ‘The Dish With One Spoon’ treaty (created to promote peace and sharing) to highlight that we all share the same land. It is our collective responsibility to ensure this dish is never empty through respecting, honouring, and protecting the land and all life that it is home to.
On July 21st, Doug Ford's Ontario government's Omnibus Bill 197 (Covid-19 Economic Recovery Act) received royal assent. Among other things, the bill amends 20 pieces of existing legislation in the name of economic recovery, including the Environmental Assessment Act, the Planning Act, the Drainage Act, and the Building Code Act. Unfortunately, to push it through at lightning speed, the Ontario government included a clause in the bill to retroactively excuse itself from the right of Ontarians to comment on environmentally significant legislation prior to third reading.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. By including a clause to retroactively exempt itself from the right of Ontarians to comment on environmentally significant legislation, the government blatantly ignored the legal requirement under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) to provide at least a 30-day period for public consultation on the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) (1). 2. Under the amendments to the EAA no industrial or development project is automatically required to undergo an environmental assessment. Environmental assessments work to measure environmental consequences of a plan, policy, program, or actual projects prior to the decision to move forward with the proposed action. In its place, the Act provides that the Cabinet has “unfettered discretion” to determine which projects are subject to assessment (2). 3. Additional changes to the EAA bar Ontarians (except for Indigenous communities) from requesting more comprehensive environmental assessments for controversial projects (i.e., through “Part II” requests) (3). Hence, the government is effectively limiting opportunities for the public to bring forward concerns about projects that could directly affect their health and well-being. 4. Changes to the Planning Act permit the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to individually issue zoning orders without public participation in important land use planning decisions about the future of our communities (4).
Omnibus Bill 197, ultimately mirrors a disastrous pattern of environmental deregulation. It follows three other omnibus bills tabled since the Ford government's election two years ago (Bill 66 Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act; Bill 108 More Homes, More Choice Act; Bill 132 Better for People, Smarter for Business Act). Like the other bills, Bill 197 works to reduce or eliminate environmental protections, meanwhile also limiting public participation in decision-making. And, as with the earlier bills, the title of Bill 197 (Covid-19 Economic Recovery Act) hides the true nature of the bill, such as the negative environmental implications.
Here's what you can do:
1. On July 22nd, from 4 PM EST to 7 PM EST “Friday’s for Future Toronto” will be hosting a call in to flood the phones and social media of those responsible for Bill 197. Register for the call at this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIsfGtrT8pGdRjpxQUCy9xxm9YJK24fvrB 2. For Ontarians, use this link to email Premier Ford, Minister Clark, and Minister Yurek: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1B2gk28k5eNm2aBi2zfMl3f1XXhUoObtHg7KffEvcHAY/edit and/or call or email your MPP. 3. For other Canadians, contact your local representatives and urge them to get in contact with Ontario officials regarding Bill 197. 4. Use social media! Contact legal experts and research the details of Bill 197.
(1) https://view.publitas.com/on-nature/omnibus-bill-197/page/1 (2) https://cela.ca/ea-is-not-red-tape-the-case-against-ontario-bill-197/ (3) https://ontarionature.org/omnibus-bill-197-what-you-need-to-know/ (4) https://ontarionature.good.do/mzo/email/