After Ontario’s auditor general released a blistering set of reports Wednesday on the state of the environment, opposition parties slammed the provincial government’s failure to act on the file.
“The government is ignoring the law,” said Ontario NDP climate critic Peter Tabuns, calling the reports a “very disturbing picture.”
“I would be embarrassed to be any government and receive the kind of rebuke this government received from the auditor general,” said Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner.
But in response to a question from Tabuns in question period Wednesday, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said he was “proud” of his government’s work on the environment.
Later, speaking to reporters, he insisted the government had fulfilled its legal duty to uphold Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, even though the auditor general found the Environment Ministry had failed to do so with nine of 16 metrics included in the audit.
“We have met all our legislative requirements,” Yurek said.
The reports by auditor general Bonnie Lysyk and Jerry DeMarco, the environmental commissioner and assistant auditor, outlined a scathing laundry list of failures by Premier Doug Ford's government to protect Ontario’s environment.
According to the reports, not only is the government not following environmental laws — and in one case, shielded hundreds of proposals from public scrutiny by citing COVID-19 — it is also not collecting enough data to know if endangered species are being protected, Ontario Parks is lacking scientists and the province is at risk of missing its 2030 emissions reduction targets. Ontario is failing to conserve protected lands, inappropriately opening up wilderness areas for resource extraction and allowing logging in Algonquin Provincial Park, the reports noted.
“You would expect everyone, when there’s laws in a province, to follow the laws,” Lysyk said Wednesday, calling the government’s failure to do so “concerning.”
Speaking to reporters, Yurek blamed many of the problems Lysyk flagged on previous governments, echoing a concern she raised in the reports. He also said the government had done its best amid COVID-19.
While opposition parties slammed the Ford government's environmental record in the wake of four blistering auditor general reports Wednesday, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said he was “proud” of his ministry’s work. #onpoli
“There's quite a bit of systemic issues within the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and, you know, that stems (from) years, possibly decades of things not changing,” he said. “And, you know, we're going to take a look at those issues that she's pointed out, and over the next year, work to fix those systemic issues.”
Liberal MPP John Fraser, the party’s caucus leader, said Yurek’s statement was “weak” and “untruthful.” The Ford government ripped up the previous Liberal government’s environmental plan, he said.
“The auditor general told us what we already knew: that the government does not have a plan for the environment,” he added.
The Ontario Green party’s new deputy leader, former environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe, said in a statement that the government is attempting to “undermine and destroy everything that protects the natural systems on which our lives depend.”
“I’m frightened,” the statement said. “You should be too.”
Beyond Queen’s Park, environmental advocates also condemned the findings in the auditor general’s reports.
“This year’s auditor general report confirms that Ontario’s promises to protect and preserve our environment are hollow,” the non-profit Environmental Defence said in a statement Wednesday.
“Ontarians should be outraged.”