At Ottawa Riverkeeper, we have always been strong defenders of a robust ESA that ensures a balance between people’s access to, and enjoyment of, the river and the need to protect more fragile ecosystems that foster a healthy, thriving, biodiversity. That is why, in addition to the speed at which this legislation is being pushed through, the changes being proposed in Bill 108 (the More Homes, More Choices Act) have us very concerned.
Many aspects of this bill reveal a sharp departure from existing protections. See below for a few examples we have identified. These clearly show how the flaws in this bill would curtail the ESA’s ability to protect species at risk:
1) Deadly Delays: A number of mechanisms are proposed to delay protections for newly identified species at risk. This includes extended timelines and hurdles to add a species to the list, and delays of up to several years before protections would take effect once a species is determined to be at risk. This all but ensures that by the time a species makes it onto the list, its population would be extinct in our province.
2) Superfluous Science: The Minister would no longer need to include expert advice when making decisions regarding the classification of a species. The requirement to consult an expert, or even how an expert is defined, is left to the Minister’s discretion. This eliminates the assurance that decision-making would be based on credible, scientific evidence.
3) Pay to Play: A new Conservation Fund would be created for developers to contribute to when they are deemed to be conducting activities that adversely affect fragile ecosystems, such as wetlands and shorelines. This after-the-fact measure nullifies the enforcement of existing protections. There is also no indication of how this fund would be allocated, and only species selected by the Minister would benefit.
4) Not In My Backyard: Species that are currently on the endangered list could be de-listed if their status is different in another jurisdiction. A prime example of this is the American eel, a species of significant historical and cultural value for Indigenous people. Up until a few decades ago, it was the most abundant fish in the Ottawa River. Today, only 1% of its population remains. This decline is alarming because it is overwhelmingly caused by human action. But under the proposed legislation, the fact that Québec has not listed it as endangered means that Ontario could simply de-list it. In an age of globalization, this would be a clear abdication of Ontario’s responsibility to protect biodiversity within its borders.
After reading this, we hope you will agree with us and other environmental organizations that Bill 108 is not meant to protect species at risk.
If you share our concerns, we urge you to contact your MPP right now to let him / her know that weakening the ESA is a bad idea that will lead to fewer fish in our rivers, fewer kilometres of beautiful shoreline to absorb rising waters, and fewer opportunities for people to connect with nature.
Let’s send a clear message that we don’t want the ESA to be the next addition to… the endangered species list! The people of Ontario deserve better!