Environment Commissioner criticizes policy for the North

For Immediate Release:
September 24, 2010

SIMCOE – Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gordon Miller highlighted some of the shortfalls of the McGuinty government when it comes to northern Ontario in his recently-released report.

“Environmental Commissioner Gordon Miller points out what I have been saying over the past several months – the Far North Act does more to pander to environmentalists in southern cities than to help the north,” said Toby Barrett, opposition environmental critic and Haldimand-Norfolk MPP. “This vein follows through into rural southern Ontario, where made-in-Toronto policies don’t always work for the people of rural Ontario.”

Barrett pointed to issues Miller connected with mining, forestry and endangered species.

“The environment is an after-thought when the government regulates mining in Ontario,” Miller wrote.

The Far North Act 2010 made a commitment to protect 225,000 square-kilometres of boreal land. The act also enabled a land use planning process with First Nations in the Far North to define protected and mining development areas. In his report, Miller said “uncertainty for industry, property owners and environmental protection is created by government delays in drafting the Far North Act, 2010; developing community-based land use plans and proclaiming the Mining Act provision that allows surface rights only property owners in northern Ontario to apply to have their lands withdrawn”.

Miller also noted ineffective oversight by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry allowed mining service companies to set up illegal camps and land strips. He made reference to mining companies cutting rail lines across northern Ontario and how the practice is counter to discussions on protecting the north.

“Furthermore, the government’s silence on this staking implies that it approves this as appropriate under the Mining Act and its proposed Far North Act,” he said.

Woodland caribou are an endangered species in Ontario highlighted in Miller’s report. The Ontario government released its woodland Caribou Conservation Plan in October 2009. The plan outlines the measures the Ontario government intends to take to protect and recover this species, which has already lost approximately half its range.

Miller says the plan falls short. “Ontario’s Woodland Caribou Conservation Plan focuses almost exclusively on mitigating, rather than eliminating, threats to this species at risk,” Miller wrote. “It provides little reassurance that woodland caribou will not be extirpated from Ontario by the end of the 21st century.” To deal with the issue, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario recommends that caribou habitat be a prime consideration in how and where it plans to protect 50% of lands in the Far North.”

Miller would like to see a monitoring program for woodland caribou and recommends the Ministry of Natural Resources ensure that caribou habitat be a prime consideration in how and where it plans to protect 50 per cent of lands in the Far North.

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For more information, please contact MPP Toby Barrett at
(519) 428-0446 or (905)-765-8413, 1-800-903-8629