Ross Howard, David Israelson, Michael Keating

Environmental Journalists

By Ross Howard, David Israelson, Michael Keating
As designated environmental reporters in the 1970s and 80s, Howard, Israelson and Keating played a critical role in conveying information gathered from academics, scientists, governments and non-governmental organizations to the public.

The Journalists

Of all information sources, newspapers have traditionally been the most influential. Their high profile stories coming out early in the day are picked up by radio, television and now Internet news sites.   Because of this, they often set the agenda for public and political debates.  In the 1970s, rising public interest in environmental issues prompted editors at Canada’s major newspapers and later at some broadcast outlets to create an environmental “beat” on a par with health or education, and reporters were directed to track down and report on the most exciting and often alarming developments in this field. At the Toronto Star where he worked from 1975 to 1984, Ross Howard became one of Canada’s first environment reporters..  For Howard, it was an “amazing time” of transition when pollution was becoming a serious subject of scientific study and public concern rather than simply a series of unconnected stories about irritants like litter and trash, and he specialized in writing about environmental issues for eight years of his journalistic career.  When Howard gave up his post in 1984, David Israelson, who worked at the Star from 1983 to 1998, succeeded him, beginning in 1985.  Similarly, the Globe and Mail, in response to the high level of public interest, had its own dedicated environmental reporter, Michael Keating, an experienced journalist who covered these issues for the Globe from 1979 to 1988. The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail were then, and still are, among the most widely read newspapers in Canada.  While the Globe sees itself as the authoritative voice of Canadian journalism with a national reach and a political-economic focus, the Star with the highest circulation of any paper in Canada, has long pursued a populist middle-class stance and more aggressive reporting towards selected issues.

Breaking Environmental News

As designated environmental reporters in the 1970s and 80s, Howard, Israelson and Keating played a critical role in conveying information gathered from academics, scientists, governments and non-governmental organizations to the public.   Reports, lawsuits, lobbying campaigns, commissions, government announcements, the results of scientific studies and leaked documents all provided breaking news, and the level of public interest was high. In following professional standards of accuracy, fairness and balance, these reporters had to weigh claims and counter-claims made by emerging groups and individuals who wanted their environmental issues covered by the press.  The journalists also had to try to assess the risks of pollution problems to public health and the environment, recognizing that in a time of heightened public interest and concern their reporting could influence significantly how issues were perceived and managed. Although none of the three reporters in this session were trained as scientists, their on-the-job education gave them a rich understanding of the science behind environmental issues – the consequences of air and water pollution, the risks of chemicals to human health, or the effects of long-range transportation of acid-rain causing emissions on prized areas such as Muskoka Lakes.  During the period when they were writing, many “brave” scientists, as Howard calls them, both inside and outside federal and provincial governments, took the time to explain the complex science behind these issues both on and off the record.   This investment in educating reporters was reflected in the high level of sophistication found in news stories about acid rain, dioxin contamination of the Great Lakes and other headline environmental issues of the day.

The Political Hot Seat

Environmental news began to regularly command front page headlines and extensive explanatory stories.  With the support of their editors, the three journalists kept environmental issues at the forefront of public awareness, which considerably influenced a sea change in public attitudes:  where pollution had once been regarded as the cost of doing business and considered a fair trade-off for economic benefits, a better-informed public became attentive to exposures and risks and losses and consequences and began to demand greater corporate responsibility and government action. The environment became a political hot potato.  Almost daily the Ontario Minister of Environment had to be prepared to answer to the press, the public and the provincial Legislature every time a story broke, and the heat proved too warm for many of them. As Keating pointed out in one of his many front page stories, there was a turnover of five Environment Ministers in seven years in Ontario during the years of Progressive Conservative governments.  The heat was almost unrelenting but its sources were as diverse as the global environment itself -- an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine, the chemical leak at Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, a radioactive spill from the Pickering nuclear plant, the discovery of dioxin in herring gull eggs taken from the Great Lakes or maple trees believed to be dying from acidified rain. As the media continued to highlight these stories, the public mood gradually changed from concern to alarm.  The Ontario government realized that the environment was more than an engineering problem and began to assert higher protective and preventative standards.  Tougher legislation that required greater corporate accountability and costs was directed at specific environmental problems such as acid rain. Enforcement was strengthened to ensure that companies controlled their spills and emissions more effectively. By putting environmental issues on the front page and making them a frequent subject for editorial comment, water-cooler conversation and protest, environmental journalists were instrumental in changing public perceptions of pollution by the early 1980s.  These journalists kept the issues high in opinion polls, instigated wide-ranging policy debates and ensured a new degree of political accountability for the state of the environment.  
Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald and Mark Winfield

Environmental Historians Talk About Ontario’s Environmental History

By Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald and Mark Winfield
In this session, Bob, Doug and Mark discuss the political upheavals in Ontario and the influence of environmental activism on governments of different political stripes.

Robert Paehlke, Doug Macdonald and Mark Winfield have all been well-placed observers of, and sometime participants in, Ontario’s environmental history.  As educators, they have taught and written about the events and the policies that have shaped Ontario’s environmental path.  As well, working for or in association with non-governmental organizations, they have themselves influenced the province’s decision-making process. Robert (Bob) Paehlke is a professor emeritus of Trent University, where in the 1960s as one of a newly-minted group of environmental professors, he taught environment and politics and continued to do so for more than 35 years.  In 1971, he founded Canada’s premier environmental magazine, Alternatives, which has been an invaluable source of scientific information and policy discussion ever since.   He is also the author of numerous publications on environmental issues including his most recent book, Some Like It Cold: The Politics of Climate Change in Canada.  Doug Macdonald has taught environmental policy at the University of Toronto (U of T) for several years as a Senior Lecturer in the School of the Environment.  Before coming to U of T, he was the Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Research Foundation from 1982 to 1988, which was renamed the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) but is now defunct.  He has also written extensively on the need for a strong environmental assessment process in Ontario. Mark Winfield is an associate Professor at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, the first environmental program in Canada.  He specializes in environmental policy, sustainable energy and urban sustainability.  Before coming to York, he was Program Director at The Pembina Institute from 2001 to 2007, and before that Director of Research for CIELAP.  In 2012, his book, Blue-Green Province: The Environment and the Political Economy of Ontario, examining the relationship between environmental policy and the politics and economy of the province, was released. In this session, Bob, Doug and Mark discuss the political upheavals in Ontario and the influence of environmental activism on governments of different political stripes.  

The Conservative Years and the Response to Environmental Concerns

In the late 1960s when environmental activism began, Bob Paehlke recalls small groups popping up in every city and town in Canada, and even a minor protest could attract publicity.   Then, during the 1970s and early 80s at the same time the environmental movement was gaining strength, the Conservative Party was enjoying a long uninterrupted run of governing the province.  The government under Premier Bill Davis responded to growing environmental concerns by establishing the Ministry of Environment in 1971.  This was accomplished by piecing together institutions such as the Ontario Water Resources Commission and departments from other Ministries that had responsibility for air, water or land.  Also in 1971, Davis broke with the institutional model and, in an act of goodwill towards the nascent environmental momentum and the Stop Spadina Save Our City campaign, cancelled plans for the Spadina Expressway.  Spadina was one of six expressways intended to bring suburban commuters to their jobs in downtown Toronto that would have meant the destruction of thousands of homes in the heart of the City. One of the boldest initiatives, though, of the Davis government was the introduction and passage of the Environmental Assessment (EA) Act, which established an innovative planning process for public projects.  It was intended to provide for “an integrated consideration at an early stage of the entire complex of environmental effects which might be generated.” It was passed by the Ontario Legislature in 1975 and proclaimed in force in 1976.  According to Mark Winfield, the EA Act transformed the Ministry of Environment from a Ministry concerned about pollution and garbage to a Ministry that could pass judgment on the desirability of projects proposed by other Ministries and government agencies such as Ontario Hydro.  From an institutional perspective, it was a huge shift that saw the Ministry of Environment’s stature rise within government, from “a patched together Ministry to a Ministry with power.”  

The Liberals’ Countdown Acid Rain Program:  The Zenith of Activism

In 1985 after Davis’ retirement, although the Conservatives won more seats in the Ontario Parliament by a slim margin, they did not have a majority.  Shortly after the election, the New Democratic Party agreed to support the Liberals for two years in return for the implementation of a mutually approved Accord.  At this point, the momentum for controlling acid rain had been growing and in 1986 Environment Minister, Jim Bradley, introduced Countdown Acid Rain, an ambitious program that would limit the emissions of Inco and other major sources of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the province.  Environmental groups, particularly the Coalition on Acid Rain, had been instrumental in galvanizing public support for controls, and the introduction of this program reflected their considerable influence on the political agenda of the day. During the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, with public support still strong and effective groups actively promoting an environmental agenda, the Ministry of Environment led by keen Ministers of Environment enjoyed a period of successful initiatives and policy measures.  Many projects were reviewed under the Environmental Assessment Act with the public actively engaged in the planning process.  The Ministry of Natural Resources, for example, under the Environmental Assessment for Timber Management was required to submit its plans for forest management to an extensive public review which started in 1985, and a decision to accept the EA with conditions was made by the Environmental Assessment Board in 1994.  The Ministry’s enforcement activities were having a systemic impact on the way in which industry managed their environmental impacts.  The Investigations and Enforcement Branch was actively bringing polluters to justice, and its successful prosecution of Bata Industries showed that officers and directors could be liable if they did not follow through on their environmental responsibilities.  

The Legacy of the NDP

Another election in 1990 brought in the New Democratic Party.  Continuing a proactive approach to environmental concerns, Ruth Grier, the Environment Minister, banned incineration and took on the ill-fated task, which the former Liberal government had begun, of finding a site for Toronto’s garbage.  The NDP also introduced and passed the Environmental Bill of Rights, which Mark Winfield describes as a part of the NDP legacy that has survived.  However, the NDP were presented with tough economic times in the province and the Ministry of Environment, which had seen its funding go steadily up during the Bradley years, was caught in the financial restraints being imposed by the government.  This was the beginning of the Ministry’s funding and influence being eroded as successive governments continued to reduce the Ministry’s funding and weaken programs and legislation such as the EA Act that had been put in place by their predecessors. The story of the environment in Ontario is not one of uninterrupted progress, say the historians.  There were policy failures such as the Ontario Waste Management Corporation’s unsuccessful search for a hazardous waste site.  And, after many of the gains realized in the decades of the 70s, 80s and into the early 90s -- the creation of the Ministry of Environment itself, the passage of strong environmental legislation and the aggressive work of the Investigations and Enforcement Branch -- the province’s once strong environmental performance has been diminished not only by the withdrawal of funding for the Ministry but by policy reversals and deregulation.
John Martin, Mark McKenney

MOE Investigation and Enforcement Branch

By John Martin, Mark McKenney
The SIU demonstrated its effectiveness in 1983 when E. B. Eddy Forest Products spilled thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the Spanish River polluting the river for miles downstream...

After joining the Ontario Water Resources Commission (which later became part of the Ministry of Environment) as an engineer in 1970, John Martin went back to law school and in 1978 became the first full-time articling student in the Ministry of Environment’s Legal Services Branch.  That year, a landmark decision was made by the Supreme Court of Canada with far-reaching consequences for the way in which the Ministry of Environment dealt with polluters. This was the case of R. v. Sault Ste. Marie (City).  It began when the City of Sault Ste. Marie hired Cherokee Disposal Limited to manage the City’s landfill site.  As a result of Cherokee’s poor operation of the site, leachate from the landfill entered the St. Mary’s River and polluted it.  The Ministry of Environment charged both the City of Sault Ste. Marie and Cherokee Disposal under the Ontario Water Resources Act.  The judge found that the City was not responsible for the contractor’s polluting activities.  An appeal of this decision went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Supreme Court introduced for the first time the concept of strict liability, a new category of offence. Strict liability made it possible for someone charged with violating environmental laws to argue that they had taken all reasonable care to prevent the violation, thereby practicing “due diligence.”  The Sault Ste. Marie decision meant companies could now argue that they had taken reasonable precautions to avoid polluting.  These precautions included putting an environmental management system in place, training employees to use the system and supervising employees to ensure the system was being followed.  These were actions that could show that a company had taken all reasonable care, in effect exercised due diligence, and was, therefore, not guilty in law.  Since Ministry of Environment staff had not received training in the legal issues surrounding evidence collection that could counter this argument, the Ministry of Environment began to lose cases to companies using this defence.

Strengthening the Ministry’s Training and Investigative Capacity

To address this problem, Harry Parrott, the Conservative Environment Minister from 1978 to 1981, in consultation with the long-time director of the Ministry’s Legal Services Branch, Neil Mulvaney, decided that the Ministry had to train its people in these legal issues.  They initiated a two week course at the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s Police College in Aylmer, Ontario.  At Aylmer, all Ministry abatement staff were trained to understand not only their legal powers but how to collect evidence and how to build a case against polluters by including evidence that would counter possible defences. This decision marked the beginning of the Ministry’s commitment to making its staff more effective in the enforcement of Ontario’s environmental laws.  As part of the Ministry’s commitment, in 1979 a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was set up, and Mark McKenney was hired as one of the unit’s original 13 officers.  The SIU’s job was to investigate serious offences, and, when they were convinced that environmental laws had been broken, they wrote a Crown Brief to support laying charges and sent it to the Legal Services Branch.  Then, if the Legal Services Branch decided that there was sufficient evidence to support charges, a prosecution would be launched. The SIU demonstrated its effectiveness in 1983 when E. B. Eddy Forest Products spilled thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the Spanish River polluting the river for miles downstream.  Ministry of Environment investigators laid six charges, including charges not only against the company itself but also against two of its officials.  As a result of the national publicity surrounding this case and the growing need for more Ministry staff to properly conduct investigations, Andy Brandt, a Conservative MPP from Sarnia who was Environment Minister from 1983 until 1985, became interested in enhancing environmental enforcement.  Brandt decided to ask the government for funding to create a special enforcement branch that would strengthen the Ministry’s investigative capabilities.  A provincial election and a change of government interrupted this plan, but in 1985 the newly-elected Liberal Environment Minister, James Bradley, convinced his Cabinet colleagues to approve a new Investigations and Enforcement Branch (IEB) of 120 people, about double the size being considered by the outgoing government.

The Successful Establishment of the Investigations and Enforcement Branch

In 1985,the Ministry of Environment put in place the legendary IEB under the supervision of a former Metro police officer, Alex Douglas.  A new era of aggressive enforcement was set in motion as Ministry of Environment investigators teamed up with environmental staff scientists to crack down on pollution offences. The IEB’s work was grounded in the intensive training that staff received at the Police College in Aylmer. Their primary job was to investigate violations of the Ministry’s major Acts in place at that time – the Environmental Protection Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act, and the Pesticides Act – and the numerous regulations established under those Acts. In this heyday of environmental enforcement, the IEB conducted approximately 1200 investigations each year and laid charges in 500 or 600 cases.  The officers were so well-trained and their investigations so thorough that in those first years, Ministry lawyers were winning approximately 95 per cent of their cases.  Plea settlements became common as lawyers for companies who had been investigated by the IEB and charged by the Ministry advised their clients that a trial would be a costly proposition with a significant probability of being convicted. An example of one of the IEB’s most significant cases was Bata Industries in 1992.  In this case, company officers, for the first time in Canada, were charged, convicted and fined for their responsibility, as officers, in not ensuring that leaking barrels of chemical waste on company property were cleaned up.  This case was instrumental in showing the personal liability of members of company boards of directors and their duty of care in dealing with their environmental responsibilities on behalf of the company. Another example was the case of Bakelite Thermosets, a Belleville plant that manufactured plastic resins.  Bakelite had been polluting the air and water with phenols for many years and sending falsified reports to the Ministry of Environment.   Investigators from the IEB found that the Ministry was also notifying the company when they were coming to inspect the plant so that operations could be brought up to acceptable standards before they arrived.  A technician from the plant co-operated with the Ministry in its investigation and became the first person to successfully obtain remedy under the whistle blower provisions of the Environmental Protection Act.  The company eventually pleaded guilty and was fined $100,000.
Bob Rae, Ruth Grier

Bob Rae and the NDP Government

By Bob Rae, Ruth Grier
In the 1990 provincial election, Bob Rae led the New Democratic Party of Ontario to a surprising majority government. He had an aggressive environmental agenda. Here's the story.

In the 1990 provincial election, Bob Rae led the New Democratic Party of Ontario to an unexpected majority government.   He succeeded David Peterson as Premier of Ontario and became the 21st Premier and the first New Democrat to hold this office.  In choosing his Cabinet, he appointed many previously-elected Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) who as opposition critics had developed expertise in their portfolios.  Ruth Grier, Rae’s trusted environment critic since her election in Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 1985, became the NDP’s first Minister of the Environment. Rae’s interest in environmental issues began in the late 1960s when, as a student at the University of Toronto, he attended the early meetings that led to the creation of Pollution Probe.  After graduation, he became a lawyer for the United Steelworkers of America.  Working with union activists, he saw the links between health and safety concerns for workers and environmental issues for the public.  When he was elected leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party in 1982, he gave environmental issues a high profile through his questions in the Legislature, by touring affected areas like the polluted Niagara River, and by supporting the task forces and reports of NDP MPPs on topics like energy, forestry and health and safety.    In the 1985 election after the Tories were returned with a slim minority, he entered into an agreement – called the Accord – with David Peterson, the leader of the opposition Liberals.  In return for implementing the Accord that would last two years, Rae would support the Liberals in forming a government.  The Accord required the Liberals to implement a spills bill, which had been the law for many years but never proclaimed (i.e. implemented).  The Spills Bill made those who created spills responsible for the cleanup.  The Accord also included a commitment to form a Standing Committee on Energy to oversee Ontario Hydro, to pass freedom of information legislation, and to introduce toxic substances regulations under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.  At the end of two years, the Liberals called an election and won a solid majority, governing for 3 years until 1990.  During this time, as leader of the opposition Rae continued to press the government on environmental issues.  In 1989, e made headlines when he was arrested in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario  after joining protesters trying to save the old growth forests. In 1990, when Rae became Premier, public opinion polls showed that environmental issues were still very important even though the province had started to slide into recession.  Despite the fiscal challenges, the government remained committed to an environmental agenda that saw sustainability not just as the sole responsibility of the Minister of the Environment but as a philosophy that needed to underpin all Ministries and their programs.  In the 1990 election, Rae had campaigned on an “Agenda for the People”, which included a number of environmental promises – the right to a clean environment and clean air, to reducing garbage through recycling, to the preservation of agricultural lands, to the improvement of public transit and to responding to needs of native people. One of the first actions of the NDP government was to commit to introducing an Environmental Bill of Rights, which became a significant piece of environmental legislation for the Rae government when it became law in 1993.  As well, Environment Minister Grier banned the incineration of waste and introduced “3Rs” regulations that required municipalities to recycle specific materials.  She attempted to find a solution to Toronto’s growing garbage problems but ran into opposition from municipalities and citizens around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) who fiercely contested the proposed landfill sites.  In addition, an NDP private member’s bill that would prohibit new waste disposal sites in the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area passed into law. Under the Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement, introduced by Grier’s predecessor, Liberal Environment Minister, Jim Bradley, monitoring had been required of major industrial water polluters.  Grier followed up with stringent regulations focussed on pollution prevention, the first of which compelled the pulp and paper industry to eliminate dioxins and furans from its effluent.  Like Bradley, Grier’s advisers were also committed and experienced environmentalists -- Joyce McLean from Greenpeace, and Linda Pim and Anne Wordsworth, both of whom had first worked at Pollution Probe and then in the NDP research office at the Ontario Legislature. In opposition, Rae had tried but failed to persuade the Liberals to cancel the expansion of the Darlington nuclear power plant during the Accord period.  Because so much money had been invested in Darlington by the time the NDP came to power, the government had no choice but to finish it.   However, the NDP put in place a moratorium on further nuclear development and shifted the emphasis to energy efficiency and conservation.  Conservation programs were introduced by Brian Charlton at the Ministry of Energy and by Maurice Strong as the Chair of Ontario Hydro.   Other Ministries were also engaged in putting into place sustainable policies, which Rae actively encouraged and supported.  Bud Wildman, as Minister of Natural Resources, developed the Crown Forest Sustainability Act to protect the long-term viability of Ontario’s forests.  Howard Hampton, who succeeded Wildman at Natural Resources, began the consultations on provincial parks that would eventually expand Ontario’s parks system.  Elmer Buchanan as Minister of Agriculture and Food introduced protections on the Niagara fruit lands, and Minister of Transportation Gilles Pouliot oversaw an ambitious transportation plan for the Greater Toronto Area, and construction on one of three new subway lines was begun.   Rae’s vision for his time in government was both sustainable and collaborative.  He championed “a new way of doing things” that brought together many disparate interests, including environmentalists, workers, First Nations and industry to collaborate with government, and he incorporated environmental concerns into the NDP government’s day-to day-decision-making.  
David Balsillie, James Bishop, Peter Dennis

Ministry of the Environment: Part 2

By David Balsillie, James Bishop, Peter Dennis
When the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) was created in 1972, questions soon emerged. The public wanted action, but what would the staff at this new ministry actually do about the environment, and how should it be done? (Pictured above are Gord Miller, David Balsillie, James Bishop, and Peter Dennis.)

When the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) was created in 1972, questions soon emerged. The public wanted action, but what would the staff at this new ministry actually do about the environment, and how should it be done? It was a reasonable question. Creating the new government ministry was the result of public opinion, political will and good intentions. But it takes expertise and action to put these good intentions into practice and make a difference. After the first Earth Day in 1970, a consensus emerged in public opinion, in Ontario as well as other provinces and countries, that protecting the environment was a full-time job. It seemed to most people, and to the governments they elected, that the best way to make sure the work would get done was to have one full-time government ministry or agency in charge. In Ontario, it fell to a special group of experts to actually do the work of protecting the environment — senior government officials with scientific expertise. David Balsillie, Peter Dennis and James Bishop were three of those pioneering senior environment officials who worked for Ontario. Their backgrounds were in water resources and energy management. Before MOE was created, a provincial agency called Ontario Water Resources Commission (now part of the MOE) was responsible for managing all aspects of water , while energy fell under other ministries such as the Ministry of Natural Resources, with most energy management and planning done by Ontario Hydro.

Managing Ontario’s environment

It quickly became clear that while water and energy were part of the mix, managing Ontario’s environment was a bigger job. There were other issues such as waste management, land use and air pollution — and how all these issues interacted with one another became an important part of the senior Ministry officials’ work. One of the first tasks in the new Ministry was to develop an organizational structure — determining who would be responsible for what. It took until 1974, two years after the Ministry was formed, to set up and assign responsibilities to regional Environment Ministry offices across the province. The Ministry officials and staff also worked hard to establish a database to help record the state of the environment — measurements of air and water quality, soil composition and so on. It’s important to know the situation you’re starting with if you want to know how to improve it. They studied fish, comparing samples collected from Ontario waterways to fish provided by museums and from aquariums to see what kinds of pollutants were affecting the province’s aquatic life. The difficulty is that the natural samples don’t always compare exactly with museum or aquarium samples, because there are so many variables in the natural conditions. Over the years, thanks to advances in technology, the ability to measure and catalogue samples has become much more accurate. Ministry officials also responded to complaints about discharges from industries into the water, and studied chemicals found in water samples, learning more each year about new environmental challenges that need to be met. Collecting the data was just a start — it also had to be organized, interpreted and explained. It took Ministry staff about three years, for example, to come up with a comprehensive guidebook for regional staff to use to determine how to manage water quality. It was important to get it right. It seems simple today to know what categories to put into such a guide, but in the 1970s environmental scientists were heading into new territory as they developed the goals, policies, objectives and implementation procedures for water policy — the roadmap to a cleaner Ontario.

Laying the groundwork

As the Ministry worked away, of course the environment itself did not sit still. There were new spills and accidents, newly understood pollution threats and new ways to measure, manage, regulate and reduce environmental threats. In the 1970s, the Ministry had to address issues ranging from mercury poisoning in Northern Ontario waterways caused by pulp mills to acid rain to forestry and waste management. At the beginning of the decade 70s scientists could detect toxic chemicals in water and air in parts per million. It sounds like a minute, precise measurement, but it was later surpassed by far more accurate ones. By the 1990s technology advanced so that they could see parts per quadrillion — and they could detect a veritable toxic soup of chemicals, many of them carcinogenic. The Ministry forged on —Ontario developed and deployed some of the most advanced environmental technologies for example, in water testing and analysis. In 1985, officials established the scientific base that enabled Ontario to bring in Countdown Acid Rain, one of the toughest acid rain control regulations in the world. In 1985, MOE hosted the world’s first international scientific conference on dioxin, a cancer-linked byproduct of incineration. Ontario hosted it again in 1998. The Ministry’s deep background work laid the groundwork for programs like Ontario’s Blue Box programs and the Municipal Industrial Abatement Strategy (MISA), which measures and deals with 322 parameters for what kinds of substances are in 1,200 municipal water supplies. Later programs in the early 21st century included tougher air regulations, addressing climate change and a comprehensive management plan for Lake Simcoe. Other challenges, such as cleaning up toxic “hot spots” at various points on the Great Lakes, remain daunting for the Ministry and for Ontario. MOE’s first generation scientists are still excited about their work — both the early work they did to establish the Ministry and to get it moving, and the current work being done every day to protect Ontario’s environment, in water pollution research and abatement, air quality improvement, waste management and control of toxic substances.
Michael Cochrane, John Macnamara, Peter Victor

Task Force for the Environmental Bill of Rights

By Michael Cochrane, John Macnamara, Peter Victor
In the 1980s, environmental activists suspected that their concerns would be resolved faster if they had better access to the justice system. The Environmental Bill of Rights was designed to provide that.

In the 1980s, environmental activists believed that their concerns would be resolved faster if they could initiate their own legal actions.  Lawyers at the Canadian Environmental Law Association proposed a law called the Environmental Bill of Rights that would give citizens greater access to the justice system.  Over the years, many opposition politicians in the Ontario Legislature introduced a version of this bill, but none were passed.  Finally, in the 1990 election, the New Democratic Party made passing the bill part of their election platform. After they were elected, an Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) that included some of the original features of these first bills was passed. The EBR has since become one of the province’s signature pieces of environmental legislation. It is important to recognize both the people who helped create the EBR and those who helped implement it.  In 1990, the then-Minister of Environment, Ruth Grier, appointed a task force that included representatives of the environmental and business communities and of the government.  They were asked to develop the EBR based on a number of principles:
  • the public's right to a healthy environment;
  • the enforcement of this right through improved access to the courts and/or tribunals, including an enhanced right to sue polluters;
  • increased public participation in environmental decision-making by government;
  • increased government responsibility and accountability for the environment;
  • greater protection for employees who "blow the whistle" on polluting employers.
  Michael Cochrane, who was a lawyer with the Ministry of the Attorney General, in his role as chairman of the Task Force on the Environmental Bill of Rights, led the Task Force through a series of meetings and often difficult discussions.   The EBR Task Force included Paul Muldoon from Pollution Probe and Rick Lindgren from the Canadian Environmental Law Association; Sally Marin, a lawyer from the Ministry of Environment; Andrew Roman, a lawyer from Miller Thompson; and John Macnamara, George Howse and  Bob Anderson, who represented different business associations.  (John Macnamara, who is participating in this session, represented the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.) Peter Victor, who also contributes to this session, was at the time the Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy in the Ministry of Environment, and was responsible for rolling out the provisions of the EBR.

The Task Force’s work

To begin their innovative work, Task Force members started with the principles that were given to them by the Minister. Over the course of several months and many meetings, they  discussed various ways to deliver these principles through the EBR. One of the most contentious issues was enhanced access to the courts and a citizen’s right to sue polluters.  The environmentalists argued that citizens should have the right to sue polluters if provincial environmental laws were not being applied or enforced. Businesses worried that they’d be harmed by an EBR that gave citizens an unrestricted right to sue. The Task Force eventually agreed to open up legal avenues to the public.  Citizens have the right to apply for leave to appeal certain Ministry decisions such as permits or licences or to apply for reviews of existing environmental laws.  Citizens were also given the right to apply for an investigation of any violation of an act, regulation or instrument and the right to sue a polluter for causing environmental harm to a public resource.

Technology and the EBR

Another EBR goal was the right for the public to participate in environmental decision making in the province and to have greater access to information. The solution that the Task Force proposed was an Environmental Registry where people could be notified about important laws and policies proposed by the government.  However, this was accomplished in a way that the EBR Task Force couldn’t have anticipated at the time. The first electronic registry was developed by staff of the Ministry of Environment who trained librarians across Ontario to provide members of the public with access to this EBR ‘bulletin board’.  Then, as personal computers increased Internet access, new opportunities for sharing government information dovetailed with the aspirations of the EBR.  Today, the Environmental Registry is a website where every Ontarian has the right to comment on proposed provincial environmental laws and regulations. Ministries must post certain proposed environmental laws and regulations for public comment. The Ministries’ Statements of Environmental Values are also posted on the registry. As well as developing the Registry, dedicated civil servants within the Ontario public service played a critical role in setting up the infrastructure underlying the EBR, coordinating its activities across the government Ministries covered by the legislation and ensuring the Act’s success.  In addition, Ministry of Environment staff were instrumental in extending the application of the EBR from the 4 Ministries proposed by the Task Force to the 13 now governed by the legislation. Another provision developed by the Task Force was protection for workers reporting environmental violations in their workplaces.  If someone "blows the whistle" on the unsafe environmental practices of their employer, they are protected under the EBR. It sounds fair and simple today, but before the EBR was passed in 1993, these environmental rights were not the law of the land. In order to meet the principle of making the government more accountable and providing oversight of their environmental activities, the Task Force proposed the appointment of an independent Environmental Commissioner.   When the legislation was accepted, a new office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario was created and run by staff of the Ministry of Environment until the first Commissioner was appointed. The current Commissioner, Gord Miller, developed this Environmental Beginnings series to commemorate the roots of environmentalism in Ontario and the pioneers in the movement. The thoughtful, systematic work of the EBR Task Force and its successful implementation by Ontario public servants involved gave citizens an Environmental Bill of Rights that has endured for 20 years, through several changes of government — continuing to make sure that Ontarians have the right to be involved in making sure our environment is protected.  
Graham Scott, Rod McLeod, Gary Posen

Deputy Environment Ministers

By Graham Scott, Rod McLeod, Gary Posen
Graham Scott, Rod McLeod and Gary Posen all served as Deputy Environment Ministers. Acting for the governments they served, they brought in great changes, often fighting pitched battles from within.

Since the birth of the modern environmental movement in the late 1960s, there have been great advances in the way the environment is regarded and protected in Ontario. Public knowledge and expectations about fresh air, clean water and wilderness preservation have grown, while lawmakers and politicians have responded—most times effectively—with a series of environmental protection laws, regulations, policies and programs. The public pays less attention, though, to the behind-the-scenes work of the Deputy Ministers, the people responsible for shepherding these initiatives forward within the government and on their Ministers’ behalf. They are chosen for their administrative experience and skills, as well as their ability to serve as non-partisan executives, carrying out the policies and programs of the government of the day. Graham Scott, Rod McLeod and Gary Posen all served as Deputy Environment Ministers: Scott mostly for several Progressive Conservative Ministers (Harry Parrott, Keith Norton, Andy Brandt, Morley Kells and Susan Fish), McLeod for Liberal Jim Bradley when he was Minister in 1985 (Bradley was reappointed in 2011), and Posen for both Bradley in his first round as Environment Minister and for Ruth Grier, Bradley’s New Democratic Party successor. Acting for the governments they served, they ushered in great changes, often fighting pitched battles from within.

A Deputy’s role

A Deputy Minister is one of the most important—and least noticed jobs—in the Ontario government. This is a situation that most Deputies prefer; it allows them to be non-partisan and objective. Deputy Minister is also one of the highest ranking positions in the Ontario Public Service. As in all government ministries, the day-to-day operations of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment are handled by civil servants — scientists, engineers, lawyers, administrators, communications specialists, support staff and others — all overseen by the Deputy Minister. The Deputy Minister acts as Chief Operating Officer: his or her job is to make sure that the policies called for by the government and the Minister get done. The Deputy also provides advice, not only counsel on the best way to deal with an issue or to get something important done but also what the political consequences of taking (or not taking) action might be. This role has become particularly complicated for Deputy Environment Ministers in Ontario, due to the shifting and sometimes conflicting demands and expectations by different governments on environmental issues. In Graham Scott’s time as Deputy for the Ministry of the Environment (from 1979 to 1985), public interest in environmental issues exploded. High profile public issues that arose during his tenure included the 1979 train derailment in Mississauga (which forced a mass evacuation and prompted important transportation of dangerous goods legislation both nationally and provincially), acid rain, pollution in the Great Lakes, concerns about solid and hazardous waste management, the launch of the Ontario Waste Management Corporation, and the formation of the Ministry’s new Investigation and Enforcement Branch. The first calls for an Ontario “Environmental Bill of Rights” were also raised during this period. As Ontarians became more aware of and knowledgeable about environmental issues, they wanted better answers and responses from their provincial government.

Changing expectations

Another part of Scott’s job as Deputy was to understand and explain public anxiety over the environment. He had to determine for the Ministry whether public alarm over the issues was because they didn’t like the government’s policies, or simply because they were concerned about the environment. In 1985, the Liberal government of Premier David Peterson ended 42 consecutive years of Progressive Conservative rule in Ontario, defeating the minority PCs on a non-confidence motion and forming a new government with the support of the NDP. The Liberal party had advocated a number of activist environmental policies during the previous election campaign and, although they had narrowly lost to the PCs, the public seemed to like the Liberals’ focus on the environment. After the new Liberal government took control, Rod McLeod was appointed Deputy in part to act as a counterweight to Liberal Environment Minister Jim Bradley, who came in with an assertive agenda, an aggressive team of young policy advisors and assistants, and a mandate to get tough on polluters and to stop acid rain. That creative energy, with the competent leadership of the Deputy Minister’s office and the support of Ministry staff, resulted in some of the most important changes in environmental regulation in Ontario’s history, including: Countdown Acid Rain, a major program to curb smokestack emissions; the Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA), regulating what flows into rivers and lakes from factories and sewage treatment plants; proclamation of the “Spills Bill” which amended the Environmental Protection Act to place more onerous financial responsibilities on those who own or use toxic chemicals; and innovative programs and policies aimed at biomedical, household, industrial and hazardous wastes, sewer discharges, and technology-based air emission controls. Gary Posen took over McLeod’s position as Deputy Minister in 1987. His job was to continue this balancing act at a politically sensitive time: the period after the 1987 election, when the previous joint government was replaced by a strong Liberal majority; again, in 1990, when the NDP formed the government; and later that same year, when Ontario was plunged along with the rest of the world into a deep recession. During the time these three Deputies served the province, the media was paying more attention to the issues, the environmental movement was becoming more sophisticated and the public was better informed—and more concerned—than ever before about our air, our water, our province and our planet. The Deputy Ministers did their work as professional administrators, quietly and without fanfare, during a period marked by political challenges, escalating environmental rhetoric and entrenched opposition to major regulatory change.
Ruth Grier, Paul Muldoon, Rick Lindgren

Birth of the Environmental Bill of Rights

By Ruth Grier, Paul Muldoon, Rick Lindgren
Bob Rae, former Ontario Premier; Bud Wildman, former Minister of Environment and Energy; and Ruth Grier, former Minister of Environment, at the proclamation of the Environmental Bill of Rights.

Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) is a wholly original piece of legislation – a unique law driven by the aspirations of environmentalists and forged by political consensus.  In February 1994, its proclamation gave the citizens of Ontario new legal tools with which to protect the environment and demand greater accountability from government decision-makers.   Yet, the EBR that we know today took more than two decades to arrive at its present incarnation.

Early glimmerings

The first glimmerings came from south of the border where a 1970 bill enshrining environmental rights was passed in the Michigan Legislature.  Michigan’s law inspired two reform-minded lawyers, John Swaigen and David Estrin from the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), to draw up a manifesto for their 1974 landmark book, Environment on Trial.  They proposed a broad set of rights for citizens ranging from environmental assessment to standing and access to information. Then, in 1979 with environment high in the polls, Stuart Smith, as Liberal opposition leader, asked CELA’s help in drafting an environmental bill of rights, which he introduced in the Ontario Legislature.  His bill was the first in a series of unsuccessful attempts throughout the 1980s to pass this legislation as a private members’ bill.   Both Liberal and New Democratic Party opposition members introduced versions of it on nine separate occasions, all of which were either defeated by the government in power or died on the order paper. Although none of them crystallized into legislation, Conservative and Liberal governments did pass important environmental laws, such as the Environmental Assessment Act in 1976 and the Intervenor Funding Project Act in 1988, which addressed various “rights” envisioned in the original Bill.

First steps in Ontario

The Environmental Bill of Rights that was finally passed took the first step to becoming a legislative reality in 1990 when Ruth Grier became Environment Minister for the newly-elected New Democratic Party (NDP) government.  The NDP had made an environmental bill of rights a key election promise, and expectations were high that Minister Grier would deliver on that promise.   The Minister, who was committed to the general concept of a bill, set up a stakeholder committee made up of diverse interests to recommend the specific content.  Initial attempts to decide on the legislation, however, ran into strong headwinds when the committee had difficulty coming to any agreement.  As a result, the fate of the bill was uncertain.  A different tack was proposed.

EBR Task Force

A smaller group designated as the Task Force on the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights was set up to resolve the contentious issues.  The Task Force was made up of environmental lawyers, business representatives, and a lawyer from the government, who assumed responsibility for taking Task Force proposals back to their peers for discussion and approval. This was an innovative approach to the development of legislation and its outcome was unpredictable.  The process, which has been called a principled negotiation, had been tried only once before in the development of Ontario’s class action law.  Minister Grier made it clear to the Task Force that if they could not agree on a Bill of Rights, the Ministry of Environment would impose legislation that might or might not be acceptable to them.   She instructed them to incorporate specific rights into their proposed legislation; at the same time they were given free rein to decide what form these rights might take.  They included:
  • the public's right to a healthy environment;
  • the enforcement of this right through improved access to the courts and/or tribunals, including an enhanced right to sue polluters;
  • increased public participation in environmental decision-making by government;
  • increased government responsibility and accountability for the environment;
  • greater protection for employees who "blow the whistle" on polluting employers.
After 55 meetings and months of deliberations, the Task Force came to a consensus on the rationale and a draft Environmental Bill of Rights.  These were presented to the Minister in 1992.  Many of the original provisions were transformed into novel concepts that had not been anticipated – Ministry Statements of Environmental Values that were to be the equivalent of business plans, an Environmental Commissioner’s Office to ensure government accountability, an Environmental Registry that opened the doors for public input on Ministries’ permits, policies and legislation, and new rights to seek investigations and reviews of government decisions. The proposed bill was passed less than a year later in 1993 almost unchanged, with Bud Wildman, the new NDP Environment Minister, steering it through the Legislature.  Because of the way in which many disparate interests came together to create the Bill, it has had an enduring presence in the province and its provisions have given citizens a shared role in protecting Ontario’s environment.
Wolfgang Scheider, Norman Yan, Peter Dillon

Acid Rain Scientists

By Wolfgang Scheider, Norman Yan, Peter Dillon
This is the story about how scientists working in a small outpost in central Ontario found out about acid rain — and how their discoveries changed the world.

This is the story about how scientists working in a small outpost in central Ontario found out about acid rain — and how their discoveries changed the world. Thanks to the efforts of scientists like Wolfgang Scheider, Norman Yan and Peter Dillon, biologists employed by the Ontario government in the 1970s, we discovered how acid rain was affecting our environment, where it came from, and what could be done to control it. Today, people in Ontario, across Canada and around the world are familiar with the efforts to control emissions from industry and vehicles. These emissions caused rain and snow to turn acidic and affected the composition of lakes and rivers across North America. Both air quality and the acidic/alkaline balance in Ontario’s waterways have greatly improved thanks to emission control programs such as Countdown Acid Rain, the province’s aggressive regulations that curbed sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from industries and electric power plants. Many people are also familiar with the political battles that that took place to bring these improvements into place. The battles involved environmentalists, Ontario and other provincial governments, the federal government, the United States and the international community. The discovery of acid rain   The story of the scientific research into acid rain began in 1966. A University of Toronto biologist named Harold Harvey and his student Dick Beamish introduced 4,000 pink salmon into Lumsden Lake in Killarney Provincial Park, southwest of Sudbury, to see how fish stocks could survive and thrive in the area. The water in Lumsden Lake and other lakes nearby was remarkably clear. It was also downwind from sulphur dioxide emissions that blew from the huge smokestack at (then) Inco Ltd.’s Sudbury nickel smelter. Elsewhere, scientists Gene Likens in Hubbard Brook, New Hampshire and Svandt Oden in Sweden were also doing pioneering work in acid rain. A year after introducing the fish into Lumsden Lake, Harvey went back, but could not find a single fish he had left there. He came back year after year, and there were still no fish. In the late 1960s and early 70s, Harvey told his students at the university about his observations . Scheider, one of his biology students, remembers this was the first time he has heard anyone make the connection between long-range air pollution and changes to the water in lakes and rivers. At first people thought that the rising acid levels in Ontario lakes was a local problem. Gradually, through the efforts of scientists like Scheider, Yan and Dillon, they learned that it was due to the “long-range transport of atmospheric pollutants”, or LRTAP. As measurement technology and techniques improved, they could trace the sources of the pollutants more accurately, and they found that in many cases these materials came from airborne particles from smokestacks not just in nearby Sudbury, but from hundreds of kilometres away in southern Ontario and the U.S. Midwest. The media began to call this pollution acid rain, and the name stuck among scientists and the public. In the 1970s, Scheider, Yan and Dillon took to the wilderness to find out more about it. They headed to set up base in Dorset, Ontario, a city in scenic Muskoka, near Algonquin Provincial Park. There, they performed intensive site and lab work on lakes such as Plastic Lake in the area. What the scientists learned The Dorset-based scientists were able to show how pH levels in Ontario lakes were increasing drastically; within years, they could become tens and hundreds of times more acidic than they had been in the past. The scientists could also trace where the acid rain was coming from. In the Dorset area, 75 per cent of it came from the southwest, meaning it originated in the midwestern U.S., largely from industries and coal-burning power plants. At first, it was thought that the solution to neutralizing acidic lakes was simply to put more lime into the water. Indeed, this is what the scientists’ counterparts were doing in Sweden, and for a time a part of the three men’s work was to lug 36-kg (80 lbs.) bags of lime by the truckload to lakes in the Sudbury area, pick them up and dump them in. It was tiring, and futile. Soon, scientists and officials realized that the problem was bigger and more widespread than something that could be solved with bags of lime. There were too many lakes and rivers; the acidic lakes were not something that could be solved by a few people hauling around bags of lime. The pioneering scientific work of Scheider, Yan and Dillon and other Ontario scientists led to the political and environmentalist action that became Countdown Acid Rain [Ontario’s acid rain reduction program for industry and utilities] and brought down emission levels. Their studies of acid rain even led to wider research into more complex environmental problems, leading other scientists to look more deeply into toxic chemicals in the atmosphere and climate change. Today, though acid rain is still with us, the levels are much less than in the 1970s. Ontario is phasing out coal-fired power plants, and the emission levels of Inco in Sudbury, one of the major polluters in Ontario (now owned by Vale Corp.), are down by more than 90 per cent. This is a success story that we owe to these scientists. As Wolfgang Scheider says: “The story has many lessons for environmentalists today, including the length of time it may take to improve the quality of the environment due to earlier damages. We still have a way to go toward recovery in some lakes across Ontario. However, as this story demonstrates, concerted action by governments, industries and others, with support from the public can be successful.”
Jim Bradley, David Oved, Sarah Rang

Environment Minister Jim Bradley — 1985-90

By Jim Bradley, David Oved, Sarah Rang
By 1985, Ontarians were concerned about environmental issues that they had barely known about a decade earlier - acid rain, toxic chemicals in the water, industrial and sewage discharges and many more. Here, Jim Bradley and some his staff discuss how some problems were resolved.

When Jim Bradley became Ontario's Minister of the Environment in 1985, after seven years as an opposition Member of Provincial Parliament, a lot of people were surprised that he wanted that particular job, which had been a minor cabinet post until then. Environmentalists and many Ontarians were surprised when he brought so many changes to environmental protection so quickly, and Bradley himself was surprised at how much he needed to do in a short time. By 1985, people around the world had learned a lot about threats to the environment. In Ontario, the public was concerned about emerging issues that they had barely known about a decade earlier - acid rain, toxic chemicals in the water, industrial and sewage discharges and what seemed to be never-ending excuses from polluters. When Bradley took office, it was more than a decade after groups like Greenpeace and Pollution Probe were established and 15 years after the first Earth Day. Ontarians were ready for more action on the environment.

Building a team for the environment

Sometimes new premiers' offices assign staff to ministers. but Bradley's boss, Premier David Peterson, gave the new environment minister wide latitude to take action, and allowed him to build his team. Bradley recruited Mark Rudolph (who was working with the federal environment minister at the time) as his Chief of Staff, and Gary Gallon as his Senior Policy Advisor. Gallon, who passed away in 2003, was a former Ontario Liberal researcher with deep roots in the environmental movement who had served on the first Greenpeace Board of Directors. He brought in David Oved (a former Queen's Park reporter) as his Press Secretary. Later, he hired Sarah Rang as a Policy Advisor. Bradley and his team proceeded to shake up environmental politics and policy in Ontario as never had been done before. It seemed as though every month, everywhere, there was a new environmental battle to be fought. The issues became top news, highlighted on the front pages of the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and other media outlets across the province. As Bradley notes there was no Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's office in the 1980s, so it was important for activists to raise awareness of environmental issues through the media. One of the first actions from Bradley's team was to proclaim Ontario's Spills Bill, a law governing chemical spills that had been passed by the previous government but never proclaimed (a law must be proclaimed for it to take effect). Industries, truckers and farmers didn't like this law. Under the bill, when there was a spill, the onus was on the spiller to protect the environment by cleaning it up first -- and determining ultimate legal liability later. Bradley worked with experts in the insurance industry to prompt establishment of a spills liability insurance "facility" - a pool of funds, contributed by industry, to pay for cleaning up spills.

Bradley's Environmental Battles

Even within the government there were environmental struggles to contend with. As Environment Minister, Bradley fought internally to stop plans by the Ministry of Transportation to build a highway through Rouge River Valley (where Canada's first urban national park is now being created). He took on Ontario Hydro's resistance to controlling acid rain pollution caused by its coal-fired power plants. (Coal is now being phased out at power plants across Ontario.) Bradley also discovered that there were pollution problems creeping up along waterways and borders all around and through Ontario. In the St. Clair River, a "blob" of cancer-linked dioxin was discovered just offshore from the Dow Chemical Company in Sarnia. In many cases, companies had received permission from local Ministry of the Environment officials to discharge chemicals into the water. In some cases they did it without permission, and officials did little to enforce the rules. To put an end to these kinds of loose water pollution practices, Bradley cracked down with much tougher pollution control orders and set up the ministry's own environmental police force (now part of the Ministry of the Environment's Operations Division). Eventually, Bradley brought in a province-wide regulatory system ("Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement") that set limits on every company that discharges into waterways. Bradley was also responsible for the introduction of the Blue Box recycling program, and for banning notoriously dirty-burning apartment building incinerators - up until the 1980s, apartment residents dumped their garbage down incinerator chutes and there was virtually no control over what chemicals came out from those apartment chimneys. Some of the most exciting and important advances in environmental protection in this period took place across provincial and international borders. Bradley met friends and foes alike in Congress and statehouses on cross-border issues such as acid rain and the Great Lakes, and he worked extensively with our federal government and his counterparts in Quebec, Manitoba and Atlantic and Western Canada. During Bradley's term as Minister of the Environment in the 1980s (he was appointed again as Minister in 2011), issues that have taken centre stage today were just beginning to emerge. For example, climate change was just beginning to raise concerns (the first international conference on the subject was held in Toronto in 1988). Bradley, along with Oved, Rang, Rudolph and Gallon, left a legacy for environmental change.