Report Says Ontario Ignoring Ecosystem
The Canadian Press
TORONTO -- The Ontario government
has ''stumbled badly'' when it comes to monitoring rural
water quality, the province's environmental commissioner
said Thursday, suggesting it has failed to heed the lessons
of the Walkerton tragedy.
In a toughly worded annual report, Gord Miller noted
the Environment Ministry has no data on pollution of
rural streams and rivers and criticized the ministry
for failing to enforce federal laws on water pollution.
''Walkerton is a terrible reminder that degradation
in background water quality has very serious consequences,''
said Miller, referring to the southwestern Ontario town
where seven died and hundreds became sick after drinking
''I'm surprised that something hasn't moved forward
in the two years since Walkerton.''
Saying he suspected the water-quality problem ''may
be worse than ever,'' Miller said he had ''grave'' concerns
about enforcement of environmental laws and suggested
the government had misled the public into believing
that it's acting effectively.
Miller also criticized the province for failing to
protect the ecosystem, leaving several animal and plant
species at risk.
''What's most frustrating is that Ontario has made
international, national and provincial commitments to
conserve biodiversity,'' said Miller.
''Those commitments are being completely ignored.''
Animals ranging from woodland caribou to eastern wolves
and lake trout are all at risk, said Miller, who noted
the Ministry of Natural Resources doesn't even have
a comprehensive biodiversity strategy.
While Environment Minister Chris Stockwell said he
hadn't read the report, he nevertheless said he thought
it was ''fairly favourable.''
But opposition critics and environmentalists were scathing
in their assessment of the Conservative government's
They noted Miller's findings that the government is
not properly monitoring the pollution of water sources,
particularly in southwestern Ontario, despite the Walkerton
''They haven't learned any lessons from Walkerton,''
said Liberal Jim Bradley.
''We have a Ministry of the Environment today that
is understaffed, underfunded and with no clout and very
secretive and that comes from the leadership of the
New Democrat Marilyn Churley criticized Miller for
being too protective of the government and suggested
he should have ''come out swinging.''
''It's very clear from this report that another Walkerton
Environmental lawyer Paul Muldoon called it ''perilous''
how slowly the government had reacted to the recommendations
that flowed from a judicial inquiry into the Walkerton
disaster, particularly in protecting water sources.
''We don't see any plan. We don't see any framework.
We don't see any agenda of what's going to happen,''
Miller also slammed Environment Ministry officials
for undermining the public's right to know about environmental
issues - in violation of the law.
''This is profoundly important,'' Miller said. ''This
type of thing deeply disturbs me because people are
being denied basic information that they're obliged
to receive under law.''
Stockwell said he has directed ministry staff to co-operate
fully to ''ensure that doesn't happen again.''
Miller also slammed the government over what he called
''grand experiments,'' including one by the Ministry
of Natural Resources to allow large swaths of northern
forests to be clear cut.
While the ministry insists the clearcutting would emulate
natural fire patterns, Miller warned of ''significant
pitfalls'' to the approach and said it ''carries the
risk of worsening the impacts'' of logging.
''It is a massive experiment on public lands.''
Dan McDermott of the Sierra Club of Eastern Canada
said the report ''outlines the failure of the Ontario
government to protect our water, our air, our biodiversity
and indeed our lives.''