By Connor Lynch
Ontario’s environmental commissioner is calling for stronger protections of Ontario’s wetlands.
In her latest report, released last month, Environment Commissioner Dianne Saxe said that all wetlands should be considered provincially significant until proven otherwise. Given that protected wetlands come with buffer strips that preclude new agricultural use within 120 metres, that could lock up a lot of potential farmland in the province.
As it stands, municipalities make the call on which wetlands need protection and often refer to the recommendation of a conservation authority. Wetlands in farm country have become synonymous to some farmers with a battle over property rights.
The report suggests the province “unwisely permits destruction of even protected wetlands for many agricultural, infrastructure and resource extraction activities,” and suggest the province “revise the Provincial Policy Statement to provide strong protection for the remaining wetlands.”
The buck ultimately stops with the province, Ottawa-area ag lawyer Kurtis Andrews said. Municipalities have to follow the provincial policy statement but the province can issue a new one whenever it sees fit.
Grain Farmers of Ontario chair Markus Haerle said that farmers “know how to protect and preserve wetlands,” implying that stricter rules aren’t necessary. “If somebody can prove to us we’re doing something wrong, I think we can put corrective measures into place to mitigate the risk to the environment. We’re fully engaged on this.”
The environmental commissioner’s report came just days before the Ontario government announced that the office of the Environmental Commissioner, as well as the Child Protection Advocate and the French Language Services commissioner, would be rolled into the offices of the Auditor General and the provincial ombudsman. Translation: Dianne Saxe just lost her job. No word yet on what that means for her report.
The provincial downsizing was billed as a cost-saving measure by the government, though decried by critics.