TORONTO (CP) – Environmental groups were congratulating the Ontario government Wednesday as it prepared to pass endangered species legislation that was being called the toughest in North America.
The update to the province’s Endangered Species Act expands the number of protected animals in Ontario and allows scientists to determine which species should be added to the list each year.
Ontario is home to about 15,000 species of animals and plants, and given there are 175 currently at risk, the government can only be applauded for its legislation, said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
Several iconic species like the woodland caribou and the monarch butterfly could be nothing more than a memory without the new protections, Smith said.
“If we want our kids to have butterflies in the future – as opposed to having their wildlife experiences restricted to viewing squirrels and raccoons – we need this endangered species act,” he said.
It’s important for Ontario residents and everyone around the world that endangered species be protected, even if it comes with a cost, said Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay.
The governing Liberals are pledging $18 million over four years to increase habitat protection for threatened animals and help farmers, conservation authorities and municipalities absorb the costs of following the new rules.
Both opposition parties said they would support the bill as it faces its final procedural step in the legislature Wednesday, although it’s expected some members representing rural ridings will vote against it.
“A number of our members, particularly from rural ridings, are concerned that this could result in farmers or other landowners losing income without adequate compensation from the government,” said Conservative critic Tim Hudak.
“The government has not set aside adequate funding to help … protect areas without hurting farmers’ livelihoods.”
The New Democrats have taken some flak from a number of environmental groups for not endorsing the bill wholeheartedly, which the Liberals have been happy to note.
“I think it’s quite obvious the Liberal party … are the greens in the Ontario legislature,” Ramsay said.
“We’ve been leading the green revolution here in Ontario.”
New Democrat critic Cheri DiNovo disputed that assessment and said her party was just trying to make the legislation better.
“The amendments we were fighting for were really about transparency and accountability, we’re certainly in favour of doing everything we can to protect endangered species,” she said.
“Environmentalists understand … we are definitely the best environmental voice in this government at this time.”