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Toronto Star November 2, 2000, Thur. - by Richard Mackie

Environmental report harshly critical of province

Commissioner predicts more air pollution, dirtier water and the extinction of species

TORONTO People living in Ontario's cities will be breathing more polluted air, will be drinking dirtier water and will watch the loss of once-common species of birds and animals because of provincial government policies, the province's Environmental Commissioner says.

When environmentally friendly policies and laws exist, ministries frequently break them, Gord Miller said in a report that condemns the government on several counts.

As a result, the stresses on the environment are reaching the breaking point, he told a news conference yesterday.

"We've come to the end and it's that intensified use of the land that has created more problems now than we were aware of," he said. "There's more of us and we're doing more things to the land and now we have to cope with the realities of that."

Mr. Miller explained why today's environmental problems cannot be sloughed off in the way that past warnings of crisis were ignored. "We've always had problems with the Great Lakes. We've always had problems with land management and, to some degree, water management," he conceded.

"But what's happening is we're coming into what we economists call the carrying capacity of the land. We're reaching our limits for the first time in Ontario."

He added, "We've always believed there was lots of water in the ground and lots of water in the streams. We could go over the next hill and there's more land available. Now we go over the next hill and we see a golf course and there's sprinklers running."

And Mr. Miller warned, "If present trends and mechanisms continue without alteration, then things like species extinction are a certainty within 20 years."

Opposition critics said the report confirmed the wisdom of their attacks on the government's environmental record, attacks that have intensified in the wake of last May's E. coli tragedy in Walkerton that left seven people dead. A judicial inquiry is looking at the direct and indirect causes of the tragedy and will recommend ways to improve government protection of the province's drinking water.

Liberal Party Leader Dalton McGuinty said the Environmental Commissioner had produced "a very damning report."

"The Ministry of the Environment is not seen as a powerful instrument to protect our environment; it's seen as a source of funds to put into tax cuts. And now we're paying the price," he said.

New Democratic Party environment critic Marilyn Churley said the report shows "the government needs to be hit over the head with a sledgehammer, given the kind of crisis that we're seeing in the management of the protection of our environment and our health."

Environment Minister Dan Newman responded by accepting Mr. Miller's criticisms. "We recognize that much work needs to be done."

The report criticizes several ministries and agencies. Species are at risk because the Ministry of Natural Resources is reluctant to use powers under the Endangered Species Act, fearing that it would infringe on the rights of landowners.

The Ontario Realty Corp. is breaking the Environmental Assessment Act by not conducting studies for environmentally sensitive land it is selling, including land on the Oak Ridges Moraine. The environment is vulnerable. Last year, the ORC sold $200-million worth of property without conducting a single environmental assessment, Mr. Miller said.

The water in the Great Lakes and the rivers and streams that run into it needs to be protected and cleaned up. Instead the government "fails to see the gravity of the situation," Mr. Miller said.


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