By: William Stolz, Quetico Foundation, Acting Science Chair
Omnibus legislation has been around since the first parliamentary session in 1868. With no specific legal definition of what constitutes an ‘Omnibus Bill’ the process is basically grouping a variety of legislative changes for a specific purpose. Ontario’s newest piece of legislation, Bill 197 – An Act to amend various statutes in response to COVID-19 and to enact, amend and repeal various statutes (Covid-19 Economic Recovery Act is the short title) is the latest version of an omnibus bill. The fourth omnibus bill in two years, it affects 43 acts. Ontario Nature has created a detailed Backgrounder which further explains the environmental impacts of the Covid-19 Economic Recovery Act.
Ecojustice, on behalf of Greenpeace Canada, and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee have filed an application for judicial review because they believe the passage of the bill was unlawful. This move comes after Bonnie Lysyk the auditor general cautioned the government would not be compliant with Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights due to lack of consultation with the public.
The name of the act implies changes are in response to Covid-19, but what does the Environmental Assessment Act, Endangered Species Act, or the Great Lakes Protection Act have to do with Covid-19? Environmental regulations stand in the way of businesses that would rather not follow our current laws. It’s just the latest legislative change to weaken environmental legislation in order to “boost business”. This is a clear trend which places the importance of the economy above the environment. For example Bill 132 – An Act to reduce burdens on people and businesses by enacting, amending and repealing various Acts and revoking various Regulations is known by the short title Better for People, Smarter for Business Act. Weakening environmental legislation is better for people who are in the business of destroying our environment. Yet a healthy environment leads to a healthy economy. The environment and the economy are part of the same system. They are not mutually exclusive. With manmade climate change and an unprecedented rate of biodiversity loss, is our environment in good health?
If we continue to reduce environmental legislation it’s the flora and fauna across Canada that will suffer the consequences. For example, woodland caribou are designated as threatened and listed as a species at risk in Ontario. Yet forestry has been exempted from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for quite some time and the Covid-19 pandemic is the newest excuse to extend the exemption. The MNRF has recently proposed a permanent exemption for the forestry sector from the ESA. These incremental changes will continue to degrade the natural environment of Canada. Will new laws change the rules within Ontario’s provincial parks? Only time will tell. But the Quetico Foundation will continue its mission to protect the wilderness, with a particular focus on Quetico Wilderness Provincial Park.