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Scientists’ letter to Ford on the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario

More than 200 scientists and researchers sent a letter today to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, calling on the Premier to reconsider his government’s decision to eliminate the position of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, as an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly.

Bill 57, the omnibus legislation accompanying the government’s fall economic statement, would absorb the Environmental Commissioner’s role into that of the Auditor General. The Bill is likely to move to a final vote later this week.

The letter focuses on the role of the Commissioner’s office in providing science and evidence-based assessments of Ontario’s environmental, energy efficiency and climate change performance.

“Given the Ford government’s emphasis on transparency and accountability, it is surprising that they would introduce measures to severely curtail the autonomy and reporting mandate of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, said Dr. Mark Winfield, Professor of Environmental Studies, York University. “Reports from the Environmental Commissioner are essential for evidence-based evaluation and policy development on environmental issues.”

The letter highlights that reports from The Commissioner have consistently identified emerging problems and gaps that needed to be addressed before they reach crisis proportions.

“While cutting this office may seem like a cost-saving measure, the reality is the Commissioner’s office cost each Ontarian only about $0.30/year, said Dr. Sheila Colla, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, York University. “The potential consequences and costs of not having an independent environmental watchdog are much more severe and could include the loss of human lives and free ecosystem services.”

Under Bill 57, the Commissioner would be limited to a single report per year. Even that report could be folded into the Auditor-General’s regular annual report. These provisions could reduce the Environmental Commissioner’s reports to a few pages per year. Such a reporting framework would be unable to provide the detailed pictures of the province’s environmental performance and needs that the Commissioner’s reports now provide.

“The Environment Commissioner has provided critical attention and oversight to government policy that impacts our air, water, soil, wildlife, climate and the environmental wellbeing of Ontario residents for over 25 years, said Dr. Faisal Moola, Associate professor, Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics. “At a time of increasing awareness that governments are failing to meet the challenges of addressing climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity, we need the ECO more than ever.”

The letter urges Premier Ford to reconsider the provisions of Bill 57 regarding the Office of the Environmental Commissioner.

You can see the full letter here:

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