Open letter to premier on Endangered Species Act

Premier Kathleen Wynne,
Main Legislative Building,
Room 281,
Queen’s Park, Toronto
ON M7A 1A1

Re: Bully Bills or Responsible Stewardship? What will be the legacy of your leadership for vulnerable species?

Dear Premier Wynne,

There are 23 in my corner of Ontario alone. Collectively, they are referred to as species at risk: endangered, threatened or species of special concern. If we were to name them every time we referred to them, would we be a little ashamed that we are not doing more to protect them?

Rapids Clubtail Dragonfly, Almonte, 2015, Status: ENDANGERED. Photo by Pauline Donaldson

I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised when I learned of the tactics used by MNRF, to circumvent the legislation that was passed by the elected representatives of the people of Ontario. The Endangered Species Act of 2007 was considered to be the gold standard of protection for endangered and threatened species. Taking a page from the playbook of a government that was known for its disdain of democratic process, changes to the act were introduced in the 2012 budget omnibus bill. Caught by environmental groups, the government did remove the harmful amendments. Not to be deterred by democratic process, the Minster of Natural Resources and Forestry did an end run around the Legislature and recommended a Regulation (with multiple provisions) requiring Cabinet approval only.

Why go to the inconvenience of changing legislation when the government can use a shortcut that simply gives exemptions to all sorts of activities that have an impact on our most vulnerable species, lowers the standard of protection and drastically reduces government oversight? The Minister failed to even determine whether or not changes he was recommending would impact the 115 species in the Act. Just gut the bill using a bit of legal trickery. I am sure the use of a regulation is within the letter of law, but obviously it makes a mockery of the intent of a law enacted to protect and recover species at risk. The intent of the Exemption Regulation according to the MNRF appears to be increasing administrative efficiency and reducing burdens on businesses engaged in activities that might harm species at risk and their habitats.

It appears that MNRF has dropped all pretext of championing for our species at risk. The evidence is in the Environmental Commission of Ontario’s 2015 Report on Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy. There has been no improvement for more than two-thirds of Ontario’s species at risk. Forest and wetlands along with 22 per cent of Ontario’s species at risk are in decline and rare ecosystems are without protection.

I understand that being the Premier of the province requires the balancing of equally desirable and sometimes competing outcomes. I do, however, expect as the leader of Ontario, you would demand more of your caucus and the public service. Require MNRF be fully and equally committed to all 7 priorities you set out in your 2014 mandate letter to Minister Mauro: Supporting Forestry, Minimizing the Impact of Invasive Species, Guiding Land Use Planning, Managing Aggregates, Strengthening Biodiversity, Protecting Wetlands, and Implementing the Endangered Species Act. Commit your minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and the highly educated, passionate people hired to serve the public in that ministry to the task of rebalancing the priorities of the mandate you gave them. Short cuts and legal loopholes are no replacement for the hard work of government. It undermines our confidence in your government and creates cynicism about government in general.

As you engage with world leaders on Climate Change, think of the silent partners with whom we share the planet. These are the species at risk in Lanark County that MNRF has been entrusted to protect against the powerful, profit-driven, forestry, aggregate, hydro, wind facilities, infrastructure, residential and commercial development sectors:

Barn Swallow Bobolink Cerulean Warbler Eastern Meadowlark
Flooded Jellyskin Ogden’s Pondweed Whip-poor-will Loggerhead Shrike
Least Bittern Gray Ratsnake Blanding’s Turtle Rapids Clubtail Dragonfly
Eastern Musk Turtle Snapping Turtle Northern Map Turtle Pale-bellied Frost Lichen
Milksnake Eastern Ribbonsnake Lake Sturgeon Common Five-Lined Skink
Short-eared Owl Golden Winged Warbler Black Tern

I would like to know your government’s response to MNRF’s poor performance on its priority to implement the ESA and what steps are being taken to reverse this alarming trend.

Gretta Bradley