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.
Gracia Janes, John Bacher, Elbert van Donkersgoed

Preserving Agricultural Lands

By Gracia Janes, John Bacher, Elbert van Donkersgoed
What happens when you take some of the most productive farmland in Ontario, add huge pressure to build on it, and then bring on hundreds of activists who are determined to protect the land? You get the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.

The Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) and the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) — two groups that worked and fought together, to change the thinking of those who would allow the province’s farmland to be gobbled up by development. Gracia Janes and John Bacher of PALS and Elbert van Donkersgoed of the CFFO have been part of the work to protect farmland since Ontarians first started giving the issue serious attention in the 1970s. A Changing Landscape Up until then, southern Ontario was changing fast from a largely rural region into the now heavily populated area known as the Greater Golden Horseshoe. It stretches from the Niagara Peninsula to the eastern edge of the Greater Toronto Area and is home to more than 5 million people. As the population grew, so did clashes over land use. Cities and towns wanted to expand onto farmland, and some farmers were eager to sell pieces of their land for a large profit, to retire or seek other work. The planning rules were loose. For example, at the time, Ontario’s Planning Act allowed rural landowners to “checkerboard” their properties — break it up into small patches like a checkerboard and sell off these bits for houses, gas stations or strip malls. The effects can be seen to this day in areas where there are lines of small buildings beside roads, but farmers’ fields behind. The checkerboarded areas are not quite rural, but not built up enough for people to walk to as they would in a village or city. Municipalities also took advantage of weak planning to expand urban boundaries out into the farmlands. It seemed like this was Ontario’s future. Niagara’s fruit belt was particularly vulnerable — it’s a narrow strip of land near both the U.S. border and the heavily populated Toronto area, yet where the climate and soil makes it possible to grow superb tender fruit, such as peaches, cherries, plums and apricots as well as a variety of grapes. In the early 1950s, then-Premier Leslie Frost put it this way: "The fruit land of Niagara is doomed to vanish under industrial encroachment. We can't stop progress." By the mid- 1970s this prophecy seemed to be coming true, as Niagara was experiencing the fastest rate of sprawl in Canada. It didn’t happen that way, thanks in large part to the work of PALS and CFFO and their members. The change from rural to urban continues today, but there are safeguards, protected areas and tougher planning rules to preserve farmland from unbridled urban sprawl. Activism for farmlands PALS was formed in 1976 by ardent fruit land preservationists, such as NDP MPP Mel Swart and Brock University Professor Bob Hoover, as well as Janes, Bacher and 26 other founding members. They were backed by well-known University of Waterloo fruit land expert, Ralph Krueger, the Christian Farmers and more than 500 people from both rural and urban areas who were worried about swiftly vanishing fruit lands, a third of which were gone and a third under urban shadow. Farm members were worried about losing the land they needed to carry on their special type of farming. Rural people worried that their way of life would vanish and urbanites were concerned that there would be nothing but pavement and concrete in southern Ontario. PALS is based in Niagara, but has reached out over the years to help other farmland groups across Ontario and Canada protect prime farmlands. The CFFO was founded by a dozen Dutch immigrants in 1954 (van Donkersgoed joined later). It is part of an international movement to share good farming practices and ethical rural values. During the 1970s and 80s, membership grew to more than 600, and the organization became more involved in public policy, including support of PALS fruit land battles , and sharing the struggle to preserve prime farmland across Ontario. Shortly after PALS was formed, urban boundary expansions in Niagara that were proposed by municipal and regional governments led to PALS’ participation in two sets of Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearings from 1978 to1980. Through PALS’ intervention, the OMB ruled to protect nearly half of the 7,500 acres (3,035 hectares) of fruit land that was threatened by development. The Ontario Municipal Board is an agency to which citizens, groups or corporations can appeal to have planning decisions reviewed and possibly overturned. Its decisions can only be overruled by the Ontario Cabinet, which happens rarely. Today, many experts argue that the OMB has too much power, or that its authority should not apply to Toronto and other big urban areas. At the same time, the OMB has been used successfully by activists to fight for environmental causes — including by PALS. One of the most significant results of the PALS hearings was the OMB’s determination  of what were supposed to be permanent boundaries for urban development in Niagara .  These were first breached 20 years later, in 2001, with an OMB approval of nearly 600 acres of tender fruit land, which expanded the urban boundary of Fonthill. A few years later, the reaction to this loss led to enormous progress being made in Niagara and in prime farmland areas across the Province, as the 2005 Greenbelt Act was enacted. It set out areas that can and cannot be developed within an area of southern Ontario the size of Prince Edward Island. While boundaries could be changed by future governments, now it would require government review and public input to change them. These boundaries aren’t set in stone, but they do designate the areas set out for fruit lands and other agriculture. Teaching and learning Perhaps most importantly, in addition to saving 3,400 acres of tender fruit and grape lands in Niagara by speaking up at OMB hearings, the people who fought — and still fight — to protect farmlands have done a lot to educate both the public and lawmakers. They successfully prevented a huge toxic waste site from being built in the West Lincoln area of the Niagara Peninsula, and in 1994 they persuaded the New Democratic Party government (of then-Premier Bob Rae) to bring in a Niagara Tender Fruit Land Program, under which farmers would be paid to place restrictive covenants on tender fruit lands to preserve them in perpetuity. This Niagara Tender Fruit Land Program was cancelled almost immediately by the development-minded Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris a year later, putting farmland again at the mercy of developers. But ironically, the Harris government later took steps to preserve land in a different area under development pressure, the Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto, using restrictive covenants. Today, 85 per cent of Ontario’s tender fruit production and 80 per cent of Ontario’s grapes are grown in Niagara, and the region is an award-winning wine-producing area, thanks in large part to the people who got involved in OMB hearings, developed policy papers, organized their friends and neighbours and helped educate Ontarians about farm land. They don’t consider their work finished. Laws and policies to protect agriculture are in place, but he Greenbelt Plan is up for review in 2015 and there are many, growing urban pressures. We must remember that once the concrete is poured on farmland, it’s not farmland anymore. That is why PALS and its supporters continue to press the government for a proven voluntary land protection program – the use of restrictive covenants to save tender fruit and grape lands for future generations of farmers and urbanites.
Bud Wildman, David Balsillie, Marty Donkevoort

Crown Forest Sustainability Act

By Bud Wildman, David Balsillie, Marty Donkevoort
The first line of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act sets the direction: “…to manage Crown forests to meet social, economic and environmental needs of present and future generations.” Listen to the story learn about how the act got put into place.

The Crown Forest Sustainability Act (CFSA), passed in 1994, brought new thinking to the way Ontario’s forests are managed. Up to the 1990s, Ontario’s Crown forests (forests on publicly owned land) were thought of mostly as a commodity. Protecting the forests’ waters, air quality, wildlife, recreation and tourism use and aboriginal rights, while considered, took a back seat. It’s an important point, because Ontario has more than 71 million hectares of forest, and 90 per cent of this is Crown forest. The CSFA put environmental considerations into forest management. It came into being after years of hard work. Much of it was done by C. J. (Bud) Wildman, the Minister of Natural Resources and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs from October 1990 to February 1993. He worked closely with Assistant Deputy Minister David Balsillie and Policy Advisor Marty Donkevoort. Background Between 1965 and 1994, the average yearly area logged in Ontario had gone up more than 50 per cent, to nearly 210,000 hectares. During that time period, the actual timber harvested on Crown land more than doubled from 10 million cubic metres of wood cut from an area of 1,000 hectares of forest, to nearly 21 million cubic metres from 2,100 hectares. Worse, the use of clearcutting kept growing. In the 1970s, about 70 per cent of Ontario’s forest harvests were clearcut. By the 1990s this jumped to 91 per cent. Clearly, this wasn’t sustainable. As unthinkable as it may seem, if soxmething didn't change, Ontario could eventually run out of harvestable, renewable forests. Previous ministers and governments had considered this problem with varying interest and attention, but the mind-set was to put the short term needs of forest companies for product — trees to be cut — before protection or renewal and long term interests. Bud Wildman and the MNR reform When Wildman took office as minister, Ontario’s forests were regulated by 28 forest management agreements, covering 70 per cent of Crown forests. He represented the Northern Ontario riding of Algoma for the New Democratic Party (NDP), knew the forests and the forestry industry well. He was determined from the day of his appointment to bring change to the Natural Resources ministry and the way it managed forests, to make sustainability a priority that would have to be considered in every decision. The concept of ‘sustainable development’ was recent; the phrase had been coined only in 1987, in a United Nations report called Our Common Future or the Brundtland Report, which firmly placed environmental issues on the world’s political agenda. It was important that everyone understood where Ontario was going, and that the industry understood that sustainability was ultimately better for its bottom line. The MNR staff was highly professional and had some of the most experienced forestry experts in the world, but under the rules at the time, the forest industry (not the ministry) was responsible for making sure that forests were being regenerated. Since the Crown, not the industry, actually owned the forests, the industry’s priority was to get permission to harvest as many trees as possible. The mindset of the ministry staff, and virtually all ministers up to this time, was to follow the rules and make tree-cutting, not sustainability, the priority. Wildman wanted to change this. There weren’t enough trees being regenerated. In many of the unregenerated forests, ‘weeds’ like birch and poplar trees were growing. Altering the tree species affects the type of insects and plant life in the forests, as well as the soil, the water, and ultimately the fish and all other wildlife. This not only affects the forests, but also the biodiversity, fish and wildlife habitats, recreation, tourism, spiritual and heritage values of our forests. Wildman felt that Ontario had to move to a holistic approach to forest management, taking all of these values and interests into account. He knew there were a lot of mid-level staff and field workers in his ministry who shared his concerns. They would support figuring out better ways to protect Ontario’s Crown forests. He also knew he needed to act fast, because changing the MNR and its forestry practices would take a long time (it did take nearly the whole term of the NDP government) and there would likely be unforeseen obstacles. The unforeseen obstacle came quickly when the NDP government, elected in September 1990, soon discovered it was broke. Wildman was told he wouldn’t have enough money for a major forestry audit— Ontario’s first. This was important because the Ministry assessments of the state of our forests were out-of-date. So despite the lack of cash, Wildman and his team found a way to do the audit anyway, through a comprehensive program, known as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The Crown Forest Sustainability Act - Now The Act was finally passed in 1994 (last updated in 2003). It sets detailed rules for how Crown forests are to be managed, in terms of access, maintenance, renewal and planning — rules that are binding on the MNR and everyone else. It incorporated the majority of the recommendations of the Class Environmental Assessment on Forest Management and covers the entire province but primarily affects the North, where most of Ontario’s Crown forest is located. The result is a system that has everyone thinking more holistically about forests. The CFSA and the talks that preceded it also involved more detailed discussions with Ontario’s First Nations than had taken place in the past — a dialogue that is still evolving. Today, thanks to the CFSA, there is a more clear, explicit idea of what is expected — the limits to harvesting Crown forests, when it’s appropriate to allow development and roads and when it’s not, and most importantly, the need to make sure that forests that are harvested are properly regenerated. Although disagreements still come up over issues (such as road building and development), the Act allows them to be considered during the planning stage, so they can be considered with sustainability in mind. Thinking has changed across Canada about forestry. In 2010, nine environmental groups signed the historic Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, aimed at working together. There are still ups and downs — environmentalists and loggers hit an impasse over this agreement in 2013. But Ontario’s Crown Forest Sustainability Act set the trend for the new way of looking at forests as a legacy worth sustaining. Wildman and his colleagues worried that the Crown Forest Sustainability Act would not survive after the government changed hands. But it has changed hands several times and the law is still there. Ontario’s thinking about sustainability has changed too.
Anne Koven, John Cary, Don Huff

Timber Management Class EA

By Anne Koven, John Cary, Don Huff
It cost too much and took far too long, but the Class EA on Timber Management revolutionized the way the Ontario manages its forests. It also taught us important lessons about environmental assessments that changed the hearing process forever.

The three guests invited to tell the story were Anne Koven (who served on the Environmental Assessment Board during the hearing), John Cary (who helped prepare the Ministry of Natural Resources’s case and was a witness) and Don Huff (who represented Forests for Tomorrow).

The Evolution of Environmental Assessment in Ontario

In 1976, a new Ontario law created a process where the potential environmental impacts of a new project could be examined before the first shovel broke ground. The law that created this process is called the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA). Under the process, called an environmental assessment (EA), the proponent of the project outlines potential environmental impacts and actions that would be taken to prevent, mitigate or remedy them; the Ministry provides a response; and Ontario residents can request a public hearing on either the adequacy of the document or whether the undertaking should be approved. In most cases, the Minister then orders the Environmental Assessment Board (the EA Board, which evolved into today's Environmental Review Tribunal), an independent and impartial group of environmental experts responsible for hearing these applications. Today, the Tribunal also hears applications, appeals and proceedings under other provincial environmental legislation. Based on the subsequent assessment and the ruling of the Board, the Minister of the Environment would either approve the proposal (with or without conditions) or refuse to approve it. Under what is known as a Class EA, the assessment process for groups of similar projects with predictable and manageable environmental impacts are streamlined. There are currently 11 Class EAs in effect in Ontario, covering undertakings such as municipal roads, sewage and infrastructure projects, rehabilitation activities at abandoned mine sites, flood and erosion control projects, and minor transmission facilities. The Ministry of Natural Resources' first Class EA was for timber management in Northern Ontario.

MNR’s first Class EA

The Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) had avoided public scrutiny of its timber management practices through a series of orders exempting them from formal assessment under the EAA. Finally, on December 23, 1985, MNR submitted its draft Class EA for Timber Management on Crown Lands to the MOE for review and approval. This set out the planning and approval process for building access roads, cutting timber and regenerating forests over 385,000 km2 of Crown Land, with the goal of providing “a continuous and predictable supply of wood for Ontario’s forest products industry.” Following MOE’s initial review, MNR revised the Class EA document and re-submitted it in June 1987.
The Class EA process made us examine what MNR had done and made us improve what we were doing, and do all sorts of new things. - John Cary
At the time, public opposition was building against many of MNR’s proposed planning and forestry practices. This came to a head with protests against the Temagami Lake clear cuts and the Red Squirrel logging road. At the same time, a number of interest groups and public agencies were voicing concerns over the spraying of forest pesticides, the extent of allowable clear cuts, and even whether or not the Class EA was the right process for assessing the impacts of the province’s timber management policies. In December 1987, the Minister of the Environment sent MNR’s revised Class EA to hearings before the EA Board in order to ensure “full public participation in the decision-making process.” The Board was tasked with determining, first, whether to accept the Class EA, and second, whether to approve the timber management planning undertaking and, if so, what terms and conditions (if any) should be imposed.

The Hearing

Preliminary meetings were held in January and February 1988, before the main hearings began on May 10th in Thunder Bay. The Board also visited four logging sites to look at timber harvesting operations and reforestation efforts, and organized 15 town hall meetings for northern residents, local businesses and the forest industry to discuss the issues. While dozens of interested groups participated in at least some of the hearing – First Nations were particularly active – a handful were present throughout the entire proceedings: MNR, MOE, Forests for Tomorrow (FFT) (a coalition of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the Sierra Club of Ontario, the Temiskaming Environmental Action Committee and the Wildlands League), the Ontario Forest Industry Association, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters Association. Forests for Tomorrow was concerned that the undertaking was not well suited to a Class EA approval, because the effects of timber management are not “small scale,” “predictable” or “minor.” FFT also argued that MNR could not undertake a full EA because it could not describe the forest environment in great enough detail to accurately assess the impacts, and that the basic issue should have been forest, not timber management. Several intervenors doubted that MNR could be trusted to implement the Class EA in a satisfactory way; they worried that approval of the plan would be equivalent to writing a “blank cheque” to MNR.
Two important issues were restrictions on clear cut size, and the definition of forest management to be a more encompassing, more organic concept. - Anne Koven
Over the 411 hearing days, the Board heard from more than 500 witnesses and amassed 70,000 pages of daily transcripts, more than 2,300 exhibits and tens of thousands of pages of supporting material. The final session concluded on November 12, 1992 in Sudbury, and the Board retired for more than 17 months to write its decision.

The Decision

On April 20, 1994, more than six years after the launch of the hearing process, the EA Board approved MNR’s plan for timber management. In a massive 560-page decision, which included some 115 detailed terms and conditions, the Board concluded that Ontario’s extensive forest resources were to be managed, under careful regulation, as a renewable resource. At the same time, it set conditions to protect certain old growth areas, as well as limits on the size of those areas that could be clearcut. The Board also required MNR to undertake extensive monitoring of industry compliance and report on impact assessment and silvicultural effectiveness. The Class EA for Timber Management on Crown Lands was approved for a nine-year period so that the successes and failures of the timber management planning process – and its evolution into an integrated forest management approach – could be “tested in the forest.” The approval outlined the four-stage process that must be followed in preparing forest management plans, including an assessment of the environmental effects of alternatives, and public and Aboriginal consultation requirements. It also required that MNR bring its revised Timber Management Planning Manual back to the Board for public review and approval.
The decision revolutionized the forest industry, and led almost immediately to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, which was a completely different philosophical approach to forest management. - Gord Miller
Unfortunately, the interminable timber management hearing left the EA process with a nasty black eye. In its written decision, the Board complained that the “hearing was far too long and far too expensive.” MNR had completed only a small portion of its case when the hearing started – just four of the 17 witness panels – and the whole affair took on an overly legalistic and antagonistic air. As a result, the hearing was delayed for months while MNR completed its witness statements, procedural matters remained unsettled and, when it resumed, the cross-examination seemed endless. Even if everyone had cooperated fully, the hearing would still have lasted at least two years, but the Board complained that “the lawyers seemed more interested in strategies and tactics to fight one another than in concentrating on the evidence.”
The hearing had a deleterious effect on the EA process because it dragged on and on and on and on ... Any politician or any minister of the environment is going ‘EA is radioactive.’ - Don Huff
The scope of the case also put a tremendous strain on the intervenors, several of whom threatened to pull out after the first year if the province didn’t make additional funding available. While the province did increase funding, the Board later concluded in its decision that a “proponent should not have a bottomless pit of money with which to present its case and drag the hearing out, leaving other parties to participate on a shoestring.”

The Future of Forest Management

Despite all the angst, tension and expense, there was finally a set of clear, publicly accessible rules in place to govern forest management in Ontario. In 2003, MOE extended the Class EA for Timber Management, issuing Declaration Order MNR-71, to replace the original 115 terms and conditions with 55 that cover access roads, harvesting, reforestation, pesticide use, forest maintenance and the preparation, and the review and approval of forest management plans. The Declaration Order removed much of the detail from the original Approval on the basis that the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, and its regulated manuals provide “a more rigorous regime” than legislation in place when the Approval was issued in 1994.
Certain public consultation mechanisms that the EA put in place ... are still extant and still working, that provide an opportunity to the local public, the regional public or anybody. - John Cary
Today, the Forest Management Class EA is an “evergreen” Approval: MNR does not have to seek its renewal, but amendments must be made to ensure the Approval remains current. Like many other Class EAs, amendments can be requested at any time by members of the public, the proponent or other parties, and must be approved by Cabinet. This most recent series of amendments to the Class EA were adopted in 2007. In addition, MNR must prepare and submit to MOE a review of the Class EA planning process and its implementation of the conditions in the Approval every five years. The first of these was submitted in June 2009 and the next is due in June 2014. MNR is also required to submit to the Legislature a five-year State of the Forest Report, which was done in 2006 and 2012. However, much of the impact of the Timber Management Class EA decision could ultimately be undone by administrative tinkering that has occurred over the last decade. As part of MNR’s 2012 budget to improve ministry services while cutting costs, the government is considering amendments to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994. Among these, it could eliminate the requirement for forest management plans, extend forest resource licences indefinitely, and allow unlimited exemptions of forest operations from certain requirements of the Act. Only time will tell what the lasting impact of the landmark Class EA decision released nearly 20 years ago will be.