November 5, 2001

Ontario uses pilot projects to test new environmental best practices

Since the release of Valerie Gibbons' Managing the Environment report earlier this year, the Ontario Ministry of Environment has moved relatively quickly to begin implementing some of its best practices recommendations. One of the first actions was to appoint Bob Breeze, a senior government official with extensive experience in the MOE, to the specially-created post of Associate Deputy Minister with responsibility for overseeing implementation of the Gibbons report recommendations. He outlined progress to date at a recent business opportunities meeting of the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA).

The best environmental practices by leading jurisdictions reflect a major philosophical and cultural shift in approach, he told the industry group. Five key characteristics define this shift, although no single jurisdiction has made the transition in all five areas. These shifts include:

a top-level, government-wide vision of environmental management, shared across ministries/departments and agencies;

strategies for promoting continuous improvement in environmental performance and accountability by all pollution sources;

a place-based approach, setting boundaries that make environmental planning sense and facilitate cross-media, cumulative control measures;

a comprehensive, flexible set of regulatory and non-regulatory compliance tools and incentives; and

an approach to compliance based on shared responsibility with the regulated community, the scientific and technical community, non-governmental organizations and the general public.

In addition to creating his post, Breeze noted that the government established a Cabinet Committee for the Environment, the first committee at this level to be struck in almost ten years. Additionally, an Implementation and Transition Secretariat has been created, incorporating the MOE's environmental partnerships branch, for the purpose of holding discussions with and eliciting the involvement of the other ministries and other stakeholders. The other ministries, such as Natural Resources, Municipal Affairs and Housing, Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, have responded positively, Breeze said.

Among the report's recommendations was a proposal for pilot projects to be carried out to test the best management practices found and described by the Gibbons team. Work on three such pilot project is already getting under way to try out some innovative approaches, said Breeze.

One such project revolves around co-operative agreements between government and industry sectors, aimed at fostering continuous environmental improvement, beyond compliance with regulatory requirements. This would involve granting site-wide certificates of approval to facilities in return for a commitment to continuous improvement. The Ministry is currently working with the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association and the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association, and is exploring opportunities with pulp and paper mills, he noted, adding that Pollution Probe is also participating in this project.

Another project focuses on compliance assistance, offering specialized help for specific industry sectors to enable them to achieve compliance and build their capacity to maintain it. Such a project will particularly benefit smaller companies that make up sectors such as metal finishing and autobody finishing. The Ministry is working with the Ontario Association of Metal Finishers and the Collision Industry Action Group on this initiative, said Breeze.

The third project is a place-based initiative, designed to introduce tools, techniques and technology to be applied on a watershed basis to detect potential pollution sources, he explained. The Ministry is presently reviewing proposals from several conservation authorities, each one distinct and oriented to the conditions and needs of a specific region. These plans, he noted, will be open to consultation throughout the development process.

MOE should have stronger powers

to protect drinking water, says options review

The Ontario government should give the Ministry of Environment a stronger mandate and more authority-backed by adequate resources-to protect drinking water and its sources, says an options review by the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development.

The Alberta-based Institute's study, conducted for the Walkerton Inquiry (which has just concluded the last of its town hall meetings), reviews drinking water protection options for Ontario, comparing five alternatives to the existing system. Improved direct delivery by the MOE, stemming from increased authority and a stronger mandate, would be the most effective mechanism for addressing the key issue of fragmentation of mandates and responsibilities for the protection of drinking water and its sources.

Other options examined by the study included:

transfer of drinking water responsibilities from the MOE to a special purpose agency;

devolution of responsibility for drinking water protection to municipalities and private communal system owners;

establishment of an independent regulatory commission mandated to protect drinking water; and

transfer of responsibility to a delegated administrative authority along the lines of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA).

Based on the experience in Ontario and other jurisdictions around the world, the study concludes that none of these other options would provide better protection of drinking water and its sources. Some might actually raise serious questions about effectiveness, costs and legal and political accountability, notes the study report.

The Institute emphasizes the need for adequate resources to support expanded, stronger drinking water protection mandates for the MOE and local agencies and to enable them to fulfill their responsibilities. Without sufficient resources, the extra powers will be meaningless, states the report.

"Significant improvements in the protection of Ontario's drinking water can be achieved without the use of new institutional structures that challenge accepted constitutional, political, administrative and legal principles, would involve major transitional costs and risks, and are unlikely to produce better outcomes," said Dr Mark Winfield, co-author of the study report.

"Instead, provincial and local agencies need to be given clear legislative and policy mandates and direction to protect drinking and source waters. At the same time, an adequate and secure resource base should be allocated to support these responsibilities, and structures should be established for the regular and independent assessment and reporting to the public on the condition of Ontario's drinking and source waters," he added.

The study was conducted as part of a series of issue papers for Part II of the Walkerton Inquiry, oriented toward the development of recommendations for the future protection of drinking water in Ontario. The report may be viewed on the Institute's Web site, www.pembina.org/pubs/pdf/DrinkingWater/pdf. More information is also available from Dr Mark Winfield, director of the Institute's environmental governance program, 613/235-6288, ext 25.

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