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Industry, farmers relieved the province has postponed its environmental rights bill.

Industry, farmers relieved the province has postponed its environmental rights bill

Ontarians must wait at least until the spring to find out whether or not they will be given the opportunity to sue polluters.

The Ministry of the Environment has decided to postpone tabling a controversial bill which would give the general public this right. The bill would effectively make the right to a clean environment equal to other human rights.

The Northwest Territories is currently the only province or territory that has this type of legislation. Its government passed an Environmental Rights Act last year which declared that people "owned" their environment and can prosecute polluters.

Roger George, the head of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says Ontario's environment minister was prudent to listen to the business community and postpone tabling the bill.

Following discussions with the minister, George says he is confident that open dialogue will be afforded all interested parties before any legislation is brought before the house.

"We met (Ruth) Grier and she indicated that perhaps her original agenda was a bit ambitious," recalls George. "It is unlikely that anything will be tabled until next year."

George says Grier indicated that a discussion paper will likely be released this fall.

Repeated calls to the minister's office failed to solicit a response prior to press time.

The decision to delay tabling the bill comes as a relief to officials at the Canadian Manufacturers' Association.

Paul Nykanen, the association's vice-president responsible for Ontario, says the bill needed reviewing.

"You have to take a second look at anything that might threaten the competitiveness of manufacturing in Ontario," he explains.

Officials from the forestry, mining, agriculture and manufacturing sectors all agree that existing legislation is sufficient and that a new law would be redundant.

Grier has stated that she is willing to discuss the proposed legislation. However, if the bill is passed, it will include a declaration of the public's right to sue polluters.

Ian Bird, the president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association, says the declaration will lead to a "sad state of affairs" for Ontario's forestry companies.

"There is going to be litigation after litigation, and most of it will be trivial. We are going to be in the courts all the time," he predicts.

Bird charges that the declaration would be an "admission by the government that its own regulatory body can't enforce its own statutes."

"What they are telling the public is that we can't do it, so do it yourself," insists Bird.

Bird also challenges the notion that the public is qualified to determine who is a polluter and who is not.

"Environmental protection is a science. Discharges, for example, are measurable and quantifiable, and the average citizen is just not qualified to do so," says Bird.

George agrees, and he is concerned that the proposed legislation would threaten existing legislation governing farm practices in the province.

"There is already the Farm Practices Protection Act (passed in 1988), which we call our "right to farm" legislation. I am concerned over which one will take precedent," he says.

George, who speaks for more than 20,000 farmers across the province, believes the average citizen is not qualified to determine when a company is polluting the environment.

"We are the custodians of 14 million acres (of farmland). Regular citizens are just not qualified," he says.

In an 11-page submission to the environment minister, officials of the Ontario Mining Association stated that "any policy or legislative formulation for environmental protection and sustainable development should remain with the ministerial branch of the government, rather than with the courts."

"We have mechanisms in place that the proposed legislation may overlap, including MISA, CAP and the Environmental Assessment Act," says association spokesman Peter McBride.

McBride claims that individual companies are spending a lot of time, money and manpower researching their own ways of controlling pollution.

"It is now rolled into the cost of doing businesses," says McBride.
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Title Annotation:Ontario Ministry of Environment's proposed bill making environmental rights a general right
Author:McDougall, Douglas
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Thunder Bay sawmills scramble to find buyers for surplus of wood chips created by mill's closing.
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