Ford Government Moving to “Exempt Projects” from Environmental Assessment Review

Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek (left) with Premier Doug Ford at his back. File photo

“Ontario Helping to Build Healthier, Safer Communities Faster” – Claims Doug Ford Tories

“Reducing delays and duplication through proposed changes to Class Environmental Assessments”

News from the Ford Government’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks

Posted January 16th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

A Brief Foreword by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper – 

During a conference with mainstream media outlets in Niagara this January 16th, Ford’s Environment Minister Jeff Yurek announced that the government is now moving to make changes to Ontario’s Environmental Assessment process – to environmental protection legislation  that took citizen groups have past governments many years to enact for the betterment of our air, waters and lands – in order to “exempt  projects” from a thorough review.

The full range of projects the government has in mind, and how  and who would do the exempting is not entirely clear, except to stress, as Ford’s Environment Minister did in his announcement, that “this is an example of how our government is looking at smarter, more modern ways of doing business to remove unnecessary costs and delays for important public services and infrastructure projects.”

Yet what about costs attached to any long-term or lasting damage or destruction to the air we breath, to waterways and wetlands, to woodlots or to any other life-sustaining features of our environment?

As the record of this Ford government so far shows, those costs are rarely, if ever, taken in to account.

What if the Ford government should decide that business interests should trump environmental protection when it comes to any future proposal to build a so-called mid-peninsula, multi-lane highway through the rural lands and watersheds of Niagara. Would the government therefore exempt a project like that?

How about proposals to construct residential or commercial buildings on or near wooded lands or provincial significant wetlands?

If it sounds to you  like I don’t trust this Ford government when it comes to anything to do with environmental protection, you are right. I do not.

Whenever we hear anyone from this government say that they are going to change the province’s environmental legislation to “improve” it, “modernize” it or make it “smarter,” the first thing we should all ask is; “Okay, so what have you got hidden behind door number two.”

Now here is the Ford government’s announcement, made this January 16th, 2020 at the Ontario Power Generation hydro facilities  in Niagara-on-the-Lake –

NIAGARA — Ontario is taking the next steps to modernize its almost 50-year-old environmental assessment program by working with holders of Class Environmental Assessments (Class EA) to propose changes that would exempt projects that have little or no negative environmental impact.

Ford Environment Minister Jeff Yurek in provincial legislature, file photo

Jeff Yurek, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, was at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario Power Generation plant today with Paul Norris, President, Ontario Waterpower Association, and Jessica Polak, Vice President of Operations, Ontario Power Generation, to announce a proposal to create a screening process that would exempt low-impact waterpower projects.

“We are looking to Class EA holders, like the Ontario Waterpower Association, to propose sensible, practical changes that would ensure strong environmental oversight while reducing delays on projects that matter most to Ontario communities,” said Minister Yurek. “This is an example of how our government is looking at smarter, more modern ways of doing business to remove unnecessary costs and delays for important public services and infrastructure projects.”

For example, a company like Ontario Power Generation must complete an environmental assessment when they replace an old generator. This assessment can take over a year to complete and cost up to $100,000 before the project can begin.

“This proposal would help Ontario Power Generation save significantly in costs and offers a real opportunity to achieve effective and practical improvements to the current environmental assessment process for low-impact projects,” said Jessica Polak. “The proposed changes would allow us to continue doing what we do best – provide clean, safe, reliable, low-cost power to the people of Ontario.”

“I am very pleased the government is working with us on proposed actions to improve the province’s environmental assessment process and eliminate delays for low-impact projects,” said Paul Norris. “I am confident the result will be real and positive benefits for communities and for the environment.”

Projects that meet the screening eligibility criteria would be required to notify the public, Indigenous communities and government agencies when they start the screening process and complete an assessment of potential environmental concerns.

The proposed amendments to the Ontario Waterpower Association’s Class Environmental Assessment will be posted in February for public review and comment.

Quick Facts

  • In June 2019, the government amended the Environmental Assessment Act to exempt low-impact projects such as snow plowing and de-icing, constructing roadside parks, and adding bike lanes from requiring an environmental assessment. Projects like this are routine activities that have benefits to communities but little to no environmental impact.
  • class environmental assessment is a document that sets out a standardized planning process for classes or groups of activities. It applies to projects that are carried out routinely and have predictable environmental effects that can be readily managed.
  • The Ontario Waterpower Association’s Class EA for Waterpower Projects sets out a standard planning process for the 224 waterpower facilities across the province.

Additional Resources

Class EAs for Waterpower Projects

Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan

Discussion Paper: Modernizing Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Program

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