Today Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, sent the following open letter to Premier Wynne:
Dear Premier Wynne,
I’m writing to you on Earth Day to request that your government take action to protect the places we love in Ontario. Specifically, I’m requesting that tomorrow’s budget reverse cutbacks to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
These two Ministries are responsible for protecting our natural heritage and environment while managing our valuable natural resources. Although we live in a more complex world with increasing demands and threats to our environment and natural resources, these Ministries receive less funding today than in 1992.
As a matter of fact, according to the Environment Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Ontario consistently spends less on environmental protection and natural resource management than other provinces and similar jurisdictions in the US. Ontario spends less as a percentage of the province’s total budget; less as a percentage of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP); and less per capita.
The combined budgets of these two ministries currently represent approximately 0.8% of the province’s total operating budget. This is their smallest combined piece of the provincial pie in over 20 years.
This would be fine if it meant that these ministries were operating more efficiently and effectively. But the negative effects of starving these ministries for years are being felt on the ground in communities across Ontario.
As I travel around the province, it is clear that Ontario’s ability to protect the places we love and to manage our natural resources responsibly are significantly compromised. People are worried about threats to their drinking water, endangered species protection, food and farmland preservation, air quality, industrial developments such as pits and quarries, garbage dumps, among many other threats to our environment and our communities. Restoring funding to the MOECC and MNRF were the most popular submissions on your government’s budget consultation web site.
For over a decade the ECO has raised concerns about the province’s inadequate ability to protect our environment and responsibly manage natural resources. By 2007, the situation had deteriorated to the point where the ECO wrote a special report: Doing Less with Less: How Shortfalls in Budget, Staffing and In-House Expertise are Hampering the Effectiveness of MOE and MNR.
The ECO has warned, “ that the shrinking budgets of these two ministries are shackling their ability to fulfill their mandates.” The ECO has documented how these ministries have neglected their core responsibilities. This puts our drinking water at risk, reduces air quality and is leading to more conflicts over resource development. The situation is getting worse. It is short-sighted and irresponsible.
I understand that these are tough financial times for Ontario. Record financial and infrastructure deficits place stress on our financial resources. The Drummond report, however, has provided sound advice on how the government can finance these services. It’s quite simple really: “Move towards full cost recovery and user-pay models for environmental programs and services.”
By not charging companies the full cost of environmental services, you are essentially subsidizing activities that threaten our environment.
According to the Auditor General, the MOECC’s approvals program only recovers 40% of program costs. The cost to obtain a Permit to Take Water “yields too little annual revenue to offset the cost of the program.” The province only charges $3.71 per million litres of water taken by high-consumption industrial and commercial users. Companies only pay 11.5 cents per tonne to mine aggregates in Ontario; Quebec charges 50 cents per tonne. After all tax breaks are considered, Ontario has the lowest effective mining royalty rates in Canada.
It makes no sense for Ontario to starve the ministries responsible for protecting our environment and managing our natural resources while essentially giving those valuable natural resources away with nominal financial benefits for the people of Ontario. These resources belong to the people of Ontario. Your government has an obligation to manage them responsibly and to maximize financial returns for all Ontarians.
Premier, I’m asking you on Earth Day to end the fire sale of Ontario’s natural resources. I’m asking you to fund the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change adequately so it can do its job protecting our communities, our environment and our natural heritage. And to fund the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry so that it can manage our natural resources responsibly.
You can do this without increasing the deficit or raising taxes if you implement full cost recovery for environmental programs and services. You can even make a net positive contribution to fighting the deficit and funding essential public services by raising mining royalties, aggregate levies and water taking fees. This benefits Ontarians today and saves money tomorrow.
I appreciate your time and consideration.