Ontario's Progressive Conservative government will expand the use of fines for polluters who break environmental laws, its environment minister said Thursday.
But that claim was immediately questioned by an environmental group, which said the proposal will make it cheaper to pollute in the province.
The proposed changes will introduce, expand or clarify the ministry's authority to fine companies and individuals under four different laws related to pesticide use and protection of water, according to a statement from the government.
"In essence, the lawbreakers are paying for the environmental improvements in our province," Jeff Yurek, provincial minister of the environment, conservation and parks, told reporters at a media event.
Fines issued for violations of these laws have risen some $1.6 million since 2010 and that could be expected to increase to between $3 million and $5 million a year, which would then be invested in green projects, Yurek said.
Environmentalists aren't buying it.
"The proposal in Schedule 9 of Bill 132 to eliminate daily fines and cap total fines will make it easier and cheaper for industry in Ontario to illegally dump sewage in our water, use toxic pesticides and pollute the air," the environmental group said in a statement. "Under the Water Resources Act, for example, the maximum fine used to be $100,000 per day. In Bill 132, the proposal is for it to be a maximum of $200,000 per contravention."
In other words, right now, if a company illegally discards pollutants into a water source over a number of days, it could be liable for a $100,000 fine every day it pollutes, whereas under the new rules — if they pass — the company would face a one-time fine of $200,000.
"They're saying they're increasing the fines, but they're not," said Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence. "These fines used to be maximum daily amounts, and now they're maximum per contravention."
Ontario's environment minister says the Ford government is going after polluters, proposing to expand the use of fines. An environmental group says the plan will make it easier and cheaper to spoil the air, water and land. @5thEstate reports.
The changes are part of the Ford government's omnibus Bill 132 aimed at reducing regulatory burden across government. They will affect statutes including the Nutrient Management Act, Ontario Water Resources Act, Pesticides Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
Currently, the environment ministry can administer fines for some land, water and air violations, but these are limited in scope. It cannot, for example, issue fines for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Pesticides Act. If the proposals in this bill pass, wrongdoers under these acts will be liable for fines of up to $100,000 per contravention.
Violations considered for fines under the proposal include illegal sewage discharges into waterways, selling pesticides without a permit, failing to have a certified operator when operating a drinking water system or violating terms of a permit to take water.
"What we're doing is targeting those that are breaking the environmental laws and making them pay immediately for the damage they're doing to our environment," Yurek said.
Asked to compare the scale of this intervention with the $1.9 billion raised and reinvested into green projects in the last year of the cap and trade program his government cancelled, Yurek said cap and trade "was charging every Ontarian in this province a tax that made life more unaffordable, made big businesses uncompetitive."
The provincial government's entire response to the climate crisis is its Made-in-Ontario plan, which has a $500-million budget over the four years to 2022.
Yurek said that plan includes a revamp of recycling programs to keep plastics out of waterways, efforts to keep organic waste out of landfills and a move to increase ethanol content in gasoline to 15 per cent by 2025, but he could not say what specific emission reductions it is targeting.
"I'll get my staff to follow up with you and get you the technical briefing on it," he told National Observer.
Ministry staff did follow up, but did not know about the technical briefing to which the minister was referring.
The government's plan to hit the 2030 target of a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions relies on the uptake of low-carbon vehicles, cleaner fuels and tougher industry standards, and an amorphous category for innovation.