Toronto, Ontario – Second reading of Ontario’s revised Endangered Species Act is scheduled to resume today. While opposition parties are attempting to delay the bill’s passage, Ontario’s leading environmental groups are urging the government to move forward with the legislation.
“The proposed Endangered Species Act, if passed, will be the best in Canada,” contends Aaron Freeman, Policy Director for Environmental Defence. “It is science-based, and yet is flexible enough to allow decision-makers to respond to socio-economic concerns. Legislators should do their utmost to ensure that it is passed before the summer.”  
Opponents to the Bill, led by the forestry sector, have so far failed to identify any specific problem with the proposed legislation. Instead, spokesperson Jamie Lim, President of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, warns of “dire consequences” for people, communities and industries – without providing any tangible evidence to back up the claim.
“This is scare-mongering, pure and simple,” says Janet Sumner, Executive Director of CPAWS-Wildlands League. “In fact, Bill 184 has much more to offer landowners and resource users than the current, outdated legislation. It has plenty of room to respond to socio-economic concerns.”
As examples of the Bill’s flexibility, the environmental groups point out that through stewardship agreements and permits, the proposed legislation will allow resource use that might otherwise be prohibited to proceed in circumstances where it doesn’t jeopardize a species’ survival or recovery. The Bill also provides for species-specific habitat regulations so that the area protected as a species’ habitat under the Act can be tailored to accommodate both the species’ needs and resource use. In addition, the Bill establishes a Stewardship Program, which is accompanied by an $18 million fund to assist landowners in their efforts to protect endangered species and their habitat. In direct response to lobbying by landowners and resource users, the Bill also enables the establishment of an Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the government about the Stewardship Program, permits, regulations, and other related socio-economic issues. None of these mechanisms or programs exists under the current, inflexible Act.
“The promise of this Bill lies in its balanced approach to species protection. It marries a science-based approach with the flexibility needed to accommodate compatible resource use,” says Rachel Plotkin, Policy Analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. “This is exactly the type of approach needed to protect endangered species.”
Opponents to the Bill claim that public consultation has been inadequate. In fact, however, many of these groups, including the Ontario Forest Industries Association, the Ontario Fur Managers Federation, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Waterpower Association, the Urban Development Institute and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, have been involved in public consultation about the Bill for almost a year.
“We’ve been to a number of stakeholder meetings with these groups over the past year,” points out Robert Wright, Counsel for Sierra Legal. “Land developers, environmentalists, rural communities, anglers and hunters, municipalities and the forestry sector were all given the opportunity for input and have been kept apprised of the government’s intentions. Their memberships were well represented.”
The groups point out that the calls for more consultation lack substance. Pre-bill consultation began in May 2006 with a detailed discussion paper distributed to all interested stakeholders. This was followed by a two-month public consultation period required by Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. Then a nine-member government-appointed panel of scientists and legal experts was struck to identify the best options for a revised Endangered Species Act. It produced a report, which was released to the public for comment in November 2006 (http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/mnr/speciesatrisk/ESA_Advisory_Panel_Report.pdf). Further stakeholder input sessions were then convened, followed by another 30-day public consultation period under the Environmental Bill of Rights in December 2006 and January 2007. Meanwhile, the MNR carried out a separate Aboriginal community consultation process. After all of this, Minister of Natural Resources, David Ramsay tabled the revisions to the Endangered Species Act on March 20, 2007. (The details of the public consultation to date, including a summary of the hundreds of public comments received, is found at: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/mnr/speciesatrisk/input.html and in Environmental Bill of Rights File# AB06E6001 at www.ebr.gov.on.ca).
“There will be even more opportunity for public consultation and comment if the Bill proceeds to Committee Hearings later this month,” explains Wendy Francis, Director of Conservation and Science for Ontario Nature. “Calls for further consultation are primarily a delay tactic, intended to kill the Bill. We mustn’t let that happen. We mustn’t squander this golden opportunity. Ontario is home to more endangered plants and animals than any other Canadian province – it’s high time we did something about it.”
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 For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Jennifer Foulds, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 232; (647) 280-9521 (cell)
Wendy Francis, Ontario Nature, (416) 846-2404
Janet Sumner, CPAWS Wildlands League, (416) 971-9453, ext. 39
Robert Wright, Sierra Legal, (416) 368-7533 ext. 31
Rachel Plotkin, David Suzuki Foundation, (613) 796-7999
 
About Save Ontario’s Species (www.saveontariospecies.ca): S.O.S. is a collaboration among CPAWS Wildlands League, Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, Sierra Legal and the David Suzuki Foundation. ForestEthics and Western Canada Wilderness Committee also support the S.O.S. Campaign.