TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is “misleading” the public about the impact of its changes to the Endangered Species Act, an environmentalist told reporters Tuesday.
Ontario Nature’s director of conservation Anne Bell disputes PC MPPs who say their amendments improve the law that protects endangered species.
“That is simply not true,” she said at a press conference.
“Any MPP that has been saying this is misleading the public. And any MPP who actually believes this nonsense needs to wake up right now.”
Bell joined NDP, Liberal and Green MPPs to voice concern about the environmental impacts of the government’s major housing bill. They said the More Homes, More Choice Act, which makes amendments to a slew of environmental laws, will strip protections for endangered animals and make it harder for conservation authorities to prevent flooding.
The Progressive Conservative government introduced the law, Bill 108, in May. Bill 108 limits the mandate of conservation authorities and makes sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act. It is expected to pass its final reading and become law by Thursday, when MPPs rise for their summer break.
Species become endangered in Ontario when they’re listed by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO), an independent committee of experts with scientific expertise or traditional Indigenous knowledge.
Bill 108 will let a government minister limit protections for endangered species, delay protections for three years after a species is listed and ask COSSARO to reconsider its classifications.
It will also let companies pay into a “conservation fund” in exchange for permission to break Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. That section prohibits killing, capturing, harassing, buying and selling endangered animals.
Changes will modernize the law, minister says
Environment Minister Rod Phillips said the provision creates a new “opportunity” for developers that want to protect habitats and also fund research.
The changes “modernize” the Endangered Species Act, he told reporters Tuesday.
“This is still going to remain a science-based process,” Phillips said. “I think it’s an improved act.”
This is still going to remain a science-based process.Minister Rod Phillips
Bell argued that the changes defeat the act’s purpose.
“The Endangered Species Act will be a hollow shell of its former self. It will be pretty much useless in addressing the ongoing decline of endangered species.”
MPPs at the press conference called on cabinet ministers to pause voting on the bill until more public consultation can be done.
The bill is “being rammed through the legislature with little debate or stakeholder input,” NDP environment critic Ian Arthur said.
“All of this is at a time when Earth is facing a human-caused mass extinction of species that will only accelerate as the climate crisis grows.”
Minister of Housing Steve Clark told reporters that he did enough consultation.
“We’ve been consulting on the housing supply action plan for many months,” Clark said.
“We received over 2,000 submissions. Eighty-five per cent of them were from the general public. We’ve had a robust consultation on this bill.”
Last week, Clark received two letters asking him to delay implementation of Bill 108. One letter was signed by 80 mayors, city councillors and environmental advocates and the other was signed by 75 scientists.
Conservation Ontario, the non-profit association that represents conservation authorities, has called on the government to make changes to the bill before passing it.
The law will make it harder for authorities to prevent floods, protect drinking water and help communities adapt to climate change, the group wrote in a blog.
Bill 108 limits the work of conservation authorities by deeming which of their tasks are “mandatory.” Conserving the lands they own is mandatory, but conserving nature and natural resources in general is not mandatory in the current bill.
At a committee hearing on Friday, Conservation Ontario’s general manager Kim Gavine asked the government to add “conserving natural resources” to the “mandatory” list. NDP and Liberal MPPs moved amendments to do just that, but PC MPPs rejected them.
Phillips told HuffPost that conservation authorities will continue to protect the environment by working on the tasks his government has deemed mandatory: work around natural hazards, conserving the land they own, protecting source water and protecting Lake Simcoe.
“Those are all critical to preserving our environment,” he said.
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