The Ontario Environmental Priorities initiative has helped to spark many important new environmental laws and policies in this province. Since it was formed in 2007, the initiative has developed a clear agenda for environmental action and worked with all political parties to see these ideas enacted. Among the policy ideas put forward by the 20 plus groups involved in the initiative that have resulted in major gains for environmental protection are:
Green Energy and Economy Act (2009): This act sparked a huge change in how Ontario generates electricity. It helped our province switch away from dirty coal and toward clean sources such as solar, wind and biomass. Prior to passage of the GEA, Ontario had developed only a smattering of wind power and no major solar energy projects. With its Feed-in Tariff mechanism, requirements for made-in-Ontario components, and incentives for community-owned projects, the GEA has put Ontario at the leading edge of one of the world’s fastest growing industries.
Greenbelt Act: Provincial governments have long talked about curbing urban sprawl and protecting prime farmland. But only the creation of the Greenbelt in 2005 really put us on the road to reaching these goals while also protecting important natural areas close to our biggest urban areas. The Priorities initiative has successfully worked to build all-party support for the Greenbelt, to expand its boundaries and to strengthen its protections.
Great Lakes Protection Act (2015): This legislation recognizes that we need more focused and better coordinated action to clean up our lakes, including resources for community action. As the source of drinking water for tens of millions of people, our Great Lakes are struggling with challenges ranging from climate change to algae blooms caused by phosphorous pollution. Getting the act in place has set the stage for more effective action to restore and protect one of our greatest natural assets.
Toxics Reduction Act (2009): Rather than trying to clean up toxics in our environment, it makes much more sense to prevent their use and release in the first place. The act set the stage for such a prevention approach and requires companies to develop toxic reduction plans.
Far North Act (2010): Ontario’s Far North boreal forest region is one of the largest intact ecosystems remaining on our planet. There has been little in the way of industrial development in this vast region, making it an important refuge for endangered species such as caribou, wolverine and sturgeon. The Priorities initiative supported the need for a conservation target in the interest of maintaining this ecological integrity as well as the need to work with First Nations. Currently, we are pushing the government to take a regional approach to planning in the Far North.
Local Food Act (2013): Recognizing that locally grown food can help us to lower our climate impact while building our local economy, the government passed the Local Food Act in 2013. The Act requires public institutions, such as schools and hospitals, to make best efforts to increase use of locally sourced Ontario ingredients and to report annually on their local food usage. This increased support for local farmers can help consumers as well by making local food more available.
Waste Reduction Act (2013): This law is aimed at ramping up Ontario’s stalled efforts to reduce waste going to landfill or other disposal. Instead of wasting valuable resources and creating air, water and climate pollution, the act will help us to divert materials to reuse and recycling by making product and packaging manufacturers take greater responsibility for the products they create.
Protection of Public Participation Act (2015): This important act protects the right of citizens to speak out about damaging development or sources of pollution in their community. The act levels the playing field for citizens by reducing the ability of developers and large companies to launch nuisance lawsuits designed to stifle public debate.
Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act (2016): The Priorities initiative has long called for putting a price on climate pollution. We are pleased to see the province moving forward with a carbon cap and trade system and an ambitious Climate Action Plan. We will be working to ensure strong implementation of both the cap and trade system and the many elements in the carbon plan, which will be enabled, in part, with revenue from the cap and trade system. These sorts of major initiatives are what is required to help our province address the largest environmental threat of our times.
Neonicotinoid regulations (Pollinator protection) (2015): Thanks to efforts by groups involved in the Ontario Priorities initiative and others, Ontario has taken steps to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been proven to be very harmful to bees and other pollinators. The province has also committed to developing a Pollinator Protection Strategy, which could help address the broader challenges facing pollinators, including climate change and habitat loss.