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Ontario not respecting environmental consultation obligations, auditor says

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, confers with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Paul Calandra, at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario’s government is not respecting or using public consultation on environmental impacts in its decision making, particularly in its now-reversed plan to open up the protected Greenbelt for housing development, the acting auditor general said Wednesday.

The auditor’s office released its annual report on Wednesday, with a section critical of the government for not following the Environmental Bill of Rights when it made “sweeping changes” to the province’s land use and housing framework.

Premier Doug Ford’s government announced in November 2022 that it was removing 15 parcels of land from the Greenbelt in order to help meet its goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years, but reversed the move this year after two damning reports from the auditor general and the integrity commissioner, as well as sustained public outcry.

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The government failed to meet its environmental obligations as those initial changes affected conservation authorities, heritage protection, municipal parkland and infrastructure, wetlands, regional planning and planning appeal rights, but the public wasn’t adequately consulted, acting auditor general Nick Stavropoulos said in the annual report.

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“The actions taken by the government demonstrate its intent not to respect and use public consultation as a source of input into its decision-making,” he wrote.

Three key ministries did post proposal notices on a major housing bill, which accompanied the Greenbelt changes, but the legislation passed before the end of the consultation period, he said.

“Also, the housing-related proposal notices were posted one day after municipal elections were held across the province,” the report said.

“Although these proposals significantly affect Ontario municipalities, many new muni­cipal councils were not even sworn in, let alone able to submit comments, before some of the decisions were made.”

Notices on the Greenbelt proposal from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs lacked key information “and, in some cases, included inaccuracies,” Stavropoulos said.

As well, the auditor said the Ministry of Energy didn’t consult Ontarians about two environmentally significant policies –one to construct three small modular nuclear reactors and consider a new, large-scale nuclear plant, and the other to expand a framework for electricity conservation programs.

Graydon Smith, the minister of natural resources and forestry, said the government does consult with the public.

“I think the actions speak for themselves, that there have been registry postings on environmental issues that are important to the government and important to the public,” he said. “We’ve received those comments and are appreciative of those comments.”

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