Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller, released the ECO's 2010/2011 Annual Report, which outlines the state of environmental affairs in the province. "Now is not a good time to disarm your environmental ministries," he warns.
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller, released Engaging Solutions, the ECO's 2010/2011 Annual Report on Tuesday morning in the Media Gallery at Queen's Park.
Prior to releasing the report, the commissioner lamented on his website that society "seems to have lost momentum on dealing with environmental issues," and added today during the press conference that "the government is adept at defining environmental problems and even analysing and proposing solutions, but too often they can’t seem to get on with implementing solutions."
And his tone of anxiety and impatience came through at the press conference. Of particular concern to Miller is the distinct lack of priority funding for the two ministries that bear the responsibility of protecting and enhancing the environment: the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and Ministry of Natural Resource (MNR).
“It troubles me, and it may trouble many Ontarians” Miller stated, “that for every dollar spent on government operations, less than one penny goes to the ministries that bear the burden of protecting our environment and natural resources.”
Miller has found that as the responsibilities of the MOE and MNR become more complex, their budgets have been significantly reduced. Compared with their budgets in the early 1990s, MNR has suffered a 22 per cent decline in its operating budget, while MOE is making do with cuts of 45 per cent.
When asked about how his report would fit in with the current mood of austerity at Queen's Park, Miller reminded the crowd of assembled journalists that he began his report a year ago before the current financial situation was known, but added the problems Ontario currently face have deep roots.
But Miller remains incredulous about the consequences of continued cuts to environmental ministries.
"The Ministry of the Environment, since 1992-1993, has kicked in 45 per cent of its budget," Miller told the crowd. "That's a pretty good contribution to austerity."
The Ministry of the Environment cannot sustain significant budget cuts, he added, noting "there's no money there to be saved. We're talking $380M in today's dollars for the MOE, compared to $47,000M for Health."
Miller hopes that the Government of Ontario will be able to move forward with correcting what he sees as budgetary imbalances that fail to prioritize key environmental ministries. But with growth projected to be over a percentage point lower than anticipated, government dollars are difficult to secure for ministries other than Health and Education.
Engaging Solutions also discusses Miller's suggestion of imposing a landfill tax to better manage waste; improving Species at Risk legislation; catching up with water quality monitoring and clean-up in the Great Lakes, and ensuring the containment of invasive species such as Asian Carp; supporting growth in the Far North; and maintaining the viability of the Oak Ridges Moraine.
Previously, the outspoken Miller has indicated his frustration with the way in which disinformation permeates the public discussion about pressing environmental concerns in Ontario, such as climate change, or water and air quality indicators. The way in which this "short circuiting of our policy regime" strikes Miller as another significant challenge to implementing needed environmental regulation.
Remedying this begins with an education and informed public - but it ends with the money being made available to tackle critical environmental concerns through MOE and MNR.
"I dont know what the government is going to do moving forward, but know this," Miller warned the crowd: "there is a tipping point beyond which bad things happen if we're not watching...I don't know where that tipping point is, but I have 35 years of experience in environmental protection, and I am nervous about our current situation."