Ontario is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not automatically do an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of mining projects before they can go ahead.
Environmental Assessment (EA) is the process by which risks and impacts of proposed developments to the environment and human health are weighed based on technical reports and advice from members of the public, particularly those who are most affected. In Ontario, the EA system is broken.
Although federal environmental assessments may cover some aspects of a proposed mine project, other jurisdictions insist on a provincial EA, for good reasons..Recently some companies in Ontario have volunteered to have a provincial EA of their project.
In December 2016, Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk released a damning report about the state of Environmental Assessment in Ontario, and outlined the steps necessary to bring it into the 21st century.
“Ontario’s environmental assessment process needs to be modernized and aligned with best practices in Canada and internationally”, Lysyk wrote “Because the Act is 40 years old – and is, in fact, the oldest environmental assessment legislation in Canada- it falls short of achieving its intended purpose.”
Government-sponsored reports demanded changes to the system in 2005, 2007, 2008 and again in 2014. In spring 2016, a coalition of environmental groups set out a road map for changes to the Act.
The Ontario Government has done little in response to these demands.
Every time a new Ontario mine goes ahead without a full understanding of its risks to people and the environment, we are threatening the land, waters and the health of future generations.
Most private-sector projects in Ontario (such as mines and chemical manufacturing plants) do not require a provincial Environmental Assessment and many huge government planning acts, such as the Climate Action Plan (including wind farms), the Metrolinx Act, and the Far North Act, were exempted from Environmental Assessment.
Although individual private sector electricity generation/ transmission projects, landfill/waste management projects and rapid transit projects require an EA, they are only dealt with through a “streamlined” process conducted by the project owner, not by government. Very few streamlined project EAs receive any public consultation. None result in a refusal of the project.
A concerned public can request the Minister to “bump up” a streamlined project to a full EA. From 1976-2016 (40 years) only 7 out of 42 requests from the public regarding private sector projects for bump-up were accepted by the Minister.
Ontario’s system is “harmonized” with federal environmental assessment of large projects. In recent years, some mining proposals have volunteered to undergo a provincial EA at the same time as the federal one, but Ontario is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not automatically require an environmental assessment of large mines.
In 2007, the Environmental Commissioner for Ontario called for a “New Vision” for environmental assessment in Ontario. In 2018, let’s make reforming the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act a major issue for the Ontario government.