Perhaps you missed it over the holidays, a TV ad showing wild but photogenic animals clapping in appreciation for the “protection” received by the provincial government. But what exactly has the government done for Ontario’s threatened or endangered species?
The government attempted to include amendments to Ontario’s Endangered Species Act in the 2012 omnibus budget bill, Bill 55, which would have avoided the public comment and scrutiny otherwise required by Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.
The 2012 budget passed, but due to public pressure and MPPs’ objections, the amendments were withdrawn. Yet the government subsequently made the changes through regulatory amendments. This did require a mandatory public comment period, and despite over 10,000 mostly negative comments posted on the Environmental Registry, the amendments were enacted.
They exempt almost all industrial projects from the core protections of the Endangered Species Act. None of Ontario’s more than 150 endangered or threatened species now have the full protection they originally had under the Act. Not one.
Once considered the benchmark for the protection it offered, the act has been eviscerated. An example can be seen in the saga of the Ostrander Point wind energy project in Prince Edward County.
The contentious issue was the request from Gilead Power Corporation, granted by the Ministry of Natural Resources: “Gilead Power Corporation has applied for a permit under clause 17(2)(c) of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) to kill, harm and harass Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will as well as damage and destroy the habitat of Whip-poor-will for the purpose of the development and operation of Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park in the Township of South Marysburgh.”
nvironmental Review Tribunal (ERT), a hearing at Divisional Court, a hearing at Ontario’s Court of Appeal, and a second ERT mandated by the Court of Appeal.
At the second ERT hearing, MNR biologist Joe Crowley, who is qualified as a species at risk herpetologist with expertise in Blanding’s Turtles, said he had advised against granting Gilead a permit because he had determined there was significant risk to the Blandings’ Turtle and that proposed mitigation strategies would not be successful. But the Peterborough District Manager for the MNR ignored Crowley’s advice and issued the permit.
Both the Ministry of the Environment and the MNR neglected to include Crowley’s report in their disclosure documents for the initial ERT. They also didn’t disclose the report for the Divisional hearing, for the Appellate Court hearing, and for the second ERT hearing. The Tribunal then adjourned so the MNR could collect and present all the relevant documentation.
The written notes that were released included a communication between the district manager and a Gilead representative regarding a 2011 CBC interview. It was also revealed the “House Notes” about Ostrander Point that were delivered to assistant deputy ministers and deputy ministers were reviewed and approved by the same district manager.
The notes also indicated that the district manager suggested softening the language of the “kill, harm and harass” permit as it hit the media, and recommended that the MNR and Gilead state that the Ostrander Point project would be unlikely to cause serious harm to the species in question. Gilead’s permit was issued as a “net benefit permit”.
Final oral submissions in the second Ostrander Point ERT hearing were heard Jan. 15, with a decision expected in February.
Ontario’s government has not given our threatened and endangered species anything to clap about.
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