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.
Paul Taylor, John Hanson, Glenda Gies

Recycling Council of Ontario

By Paul Taylor, John Hanson, Glenda Gies
Since its formation in 1978 until the present day, the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) has been a driving force behind the diversion of waste from Ontario landfills.

Although recycling has now become synonymous with a Blue Box in front of every house on “garbage day,” it wasn’t always this way.  And the RCO played a critical role in moving us from a province that threw everything away to a province in the forefront of recycling, both nationally and internationally.  Three people who led the RCO through this transformative time were former Executive Directors Paul Taylor and John Hanson, and long-time RCO Board Member, Glenda Gies, who became the first Executive Director of Waste Diversion Ontario. And it all began with the commitment of a few dedicated individuals.   In the 1960s garbage was a big issue and an environmental flashpoint for many individuals and high-profile groups like Pollution Probe.  Citizen activists like Glenda Gies in Durham, Roberta Golightly in Halton, and Jack McGinnis of Is Five in East York began to experiment with different ways of collecting materials in their communities.  Sometimes funded by small grant programs and sometimes not, they set up recycling depots, orchestrated door to door drives, and even tried curbside pickups.  Schools, community centres, church basements and garages were put into service as temporary collection centres for newspapers, tins, glass containers and steel cans, all potentially valuable materials that could be sold to defray the costs of collection and underwrite their efforts.  Only garbage collection was organized by the municipalities, and for everything else, as Glenda Gies describes it, they made it up as they went along. As local recycling initiatives proliferated around the province, these early pioneers saw a benefit in banding together.  One Saturday in 1978, Jack McGinnis and the Is Five Foundation organized the first-ever Ontario conference on recycling at Trinity Church behind the Eaton Centre in Toronto, and opened the doors to anyone interested in recycling.  Those who came – waste managers, consultants, community business leaders and concerned citizens – decided to establish a non-profit organization that would help groups find stable markets for the materials they were collecting and provide information to the public.  Thus, the Recycling Council of Ontario was born, and Eric Hellman, a volunteer at Is Five, became its first Executive Director.  The original mission was to divert material from landfills, a monumental task for the RCO that Jack McGinnis described as an “environmental Don Quixote tilting at landfills.”  At that time, the Ministry of Environment was funding the competition – a $15 million experimental plant for Resource Recovery in Downsview that would take mixed garbage and try to recover recyclable materials.  However, when it became apparent in the late 70s that the model plant would never be a success, the Ministry began to support recycling programs, with the Minister, Harry Parrott, in 1980 making funds available to organizations and municipalities for separating materials with value from the garbage. A start-up grant from the Ministry of Environment helped fund the newly-formed RCO, and their Ontario-wide toll-free line provided information on recycling and selling materials, assisted people setting up collection programs, and linked up those who had materials with those who could use them.  In 1980, Paul Taylor became Executive Director just as the organization was becoming increasingly more action-oriented.  In addition to helping members with their marketing, the RCO began to facilitate co-operation between all those involved in waste management.  It became more involved in developing recycling policy based on solid research and in urging municipalities to start recycling programs.  By 1984, at least 45% of Ontario’s population had curbside recycling for at least one material, and recycling was no longer a way to raise funds for community groups.  Halton Region, where RCO’s Board Chair Gwen Discepelo operated Halton’s Recycled Resources, had just introduced the first region-wide “separation at source” recycling program in Ontario.  The Blue Box, which had been successfully launched in a pilot program by Nyle Ludolph of Laidlaw Waste Systems in Kitchener in 1981, was being adopted by more and more municipalities, with Halton being followed by Mississauga, Durham, Niagara and then Toronto.  By the time John Hanson took over as Executive Director in 1987, the Blue Box program was expanding rapidly all across Ontario, and ambitious targets began to be set with municipalities trying for diversion rates of 10, 15 or even 25%. During the 1980s when recycling was becoming integral to Ontario’s waste management systems, the RCO was a respected and authoritative voice: supporting original provincial regulations on refillable soft drink containers; ensuring that the soft drink industry incorporated the recovery of all its diverse containers into recycling programs; working with industry and governments through the Ministry of Environment’s Recycling Advisory Committee to stabilize financial and technical support for full multi-material recycling programs; monitoring the growth of recycling in Ontario and keeping reliable statistical information; and promoting waste diversion activities beyond the Blue Box through initiatives like composting, waste oil recovery and even an effective campaign to reject junk mail. We are pleased to have a large amount of historical materials from the RCO from this period. A selection appears on the right hand side of this page. To see the rest, please contact the Resource Centre Coordinator at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.
David Peterson, Mark Rudolph, Jan Whitelaw

The Peterson Years

By David Peterson, Mark Rudolph, Jan Whitelaw
The 1980s was a decade of great change for environmentalism — around the world and very much so in Ontario. This became particularly evident after June 26, 1985, the day David Peterson was sworn in as Ontario’s 20th premier, leading the first Ontario Liberal government in 42 years.

For the next two years, Peterson led a minority government at Queen’s Park, under an unprecedented Accord reached with the opposition New Democratic Party. The Liberals actually had fewer seats (48 Liberal to 52 Conservative) than the Progressive Conservatives who had held power, but they managed to form a government with support from the NDP (who had 25 seats) under the accord, and took office with an ambitious program for environmental change. By mid-1985 the environment had already become a top-of-mind issue for Ontarians. In the spring election campaign that led to his premiership, a spill of toxic PCBs from a truck on a northern Ontario road had become a major talking point. It escalated when a pregnant woman in a car behind the truck expressed concern; the Progressive Conservative environment minister quipped that she should not worry unless she was “a rat” licking the highway. The public was not amused and it became a significant election issue. Ontario’s Environment — Under New Management Peterson appointed Jim Bradley (MPP for St. Catharines, a seat he still holds), as Minister of the Environment. He also hired staff members who were committed to moving fast on the environmental issues of the day, including Mark Rudolph, David Oved and Gary Gallon. In his own office, Peterson hired Jan Whitelaw as a senior policy advisor. Mark Rudolph had worked with the Liberals in opposition at Queen’s Park and as Chief of Staff to the federal environment minister (Charles Caccia) in Ottawa. Shortly after Rudolph joined Peterson’s government, he became Bradley’s chief of staff at the Ministry of the Environment. He worked closely with Gallon (who passed away in 2003), Bradley’s Senior Policy Advisor, also a Liberal staff member and a founder of Greenpeace. The office team was rounded out by David Oved, a former journalist who became Bradley’s press secretary, and Julia Langer who was the Junior Policy Advisor. To say that there was good chemistry among the staff is perhaps an understatement — Rudolph and Whitelaw later married, had three boys and they still work together in the private sector on environmental issues. Changes in the Environment When Peterson came to power, some Ontarians were surprised at the speed of change in the environment file. As Peterson notes, for decades the Ontario Liberals were a small-c conservative party. He credits his predecessor, Stuart Smith (Liberal Party leader from 1976 to 1982), with moving the party forward, in part by hiring people like Rudolph and Gallon to work in the opposition. To deliver their election promise of change, Peterson and Bradley moved fast. The budget for Ministry of the Environment more than doubled, from $300 million per year under the previous Progressive Conservative government to more than $700 million (by comparison, Ontario’s 2013-14 budget estimate for the Ministry of the Environment is $495 million). Their staffers found that in addition to dealing with toxic spills, they had a ready-made list of big environmental issues to contend with right away. At the top of the list was acid rain (rain that turned acidic when combined with sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides). These two chemicals spewed from Ontario Hydro coal-burning power plants, Inco’s Sudbury nickel smelter and the tailpipes of cars and trucks across Ontario. Acid rain was killing lakes and trees ,threatened human health and had become a continent-sized pollution problem. Determined to solve the issue, Peterson gave Bradley the okay to act quickly and bring in Countdown Acid Rain, an aggressive pollution reduction program. (The acid rain story is told in more detail elsewhere in this Beginnings series.) Vale Corp. (Inco’s successor in Sudbury), credits acid rain controls for giving the company the conditions to cut pollution by more than 90 per cent and make a profit by doing so. Taking on the tough environmental issues In the 1980s, Rudolph, Whitelaw, Gallon and others had to work tirelessly and seamlessly to negotiate with the polluters as their mandate from Peterson and Bradley was to hold firm to protect the environment Within six months of holding office, Peterson, Bradley and their team proclaimed a Spills Bill that could deal with incidents like the PCB spill (it had been passed by the previous government but never proclaimed as law) and took the steps that led to the world’s first Blue Box recycling program across Ontario. The Peterson government also dealt with contentious issues that concerned people across Ontario, including a noxious pollution flowing into Lake Superior from a pulp and paper plant (then owned by Kimberly-Clark) at Terrace Bay, and pressure to log the old growth forests in Temagami, right next to a provincial park. They also implemented MISA (the Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement – an industrial waterways clean-up program, Lifelines (a municipal water and sewage infrastructure enhancement program), an improved Parks Policy Book, and the start of the creation of the Rouge Park. Nevertheless, the environmental philosophy of Rudolph, Whitelaw, Gallon and others — with backing by Peterson and Bradley — was to look at the bigger picture. It’s a philosophy that’s second nature to anyone who thinks seriously about the environment today, but it represented new thinking in the 80s. They didn’t get everything done — for example, in opposition the Liberals had pushed for an environmental bill of rights (under which the Environmental Commissioner’s office was eventually established), but they never moved forward with the legislation during their time in office from 1985 to 1990. This was part of the “tradeoff” they undertook as they looked at the “bigger picture”. Today, Peterson calls what his government achieved on the environment simply “doing a good job.” And Bradley, the longest serving MPP now at Queen’s Park (as of 2013), is still on the job, serving as environment minister again since 2011.
Wendy Cook, Colin Isaacs, Derek Stephenson

Blue Box Recycling

By Wendy Cook, Colin Isaacs, Derek Stephenson
Every day, in cities and towns around the world, people step up to the curb with their Blue Boxes full of glass, cans, papers, plastic and other material for recycling. Listen to how Ontarians Wendy Cook, Colin Issacs and Derek Stephenson brought it to fruition.

The Blue Box recycling concept has been a huge success for the environment — and it all started in Ontario, more than a quarter century ago. Many people had a hand in getting recycling started in this province; three people who were intimately involved were Wendy Cook, Colin Isaacs, and Derek Stephenson.

They said no one would do it

Recycling was an idea that many experts said would never catch on. It was associated with hard times or shortages — for example, during World War II, Canadians were encouraged to save scraps of metal, rubber and paper (as well as plastics, which were still relatively new). In better economic times, it just seemed easier to throw things away. Industries did little to encourage recycling, usually because the market prices for recycled materials were too low to make recycling worthwhile. Plus cities and towns across Ontario had ample landfill and dump space. When Ontario's environmental movement began to gather steam in the early 1970s, today’s concerns regarding resource depletion, energy conservation, and climate change were not well understood by the general public. Nevertheless, for many people, throwing everything away simply seemed like the wrong thing to do. Accordingly, environmentalists came up with a practical waste management hierarchy, called the Three Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. One of the few exceptions to concerns about being wasteful at that time was Ontario’s system for handling glass soft drink bottles. To ensure that these bottles were returned and reused, consumers paid a deposit when they bought soft drinks in a glass bottle. The deposit money was returned to the consumer when bottles were brought back to the store (somewhat similar to today’s system in which beer, wine and liquor bottles are returned to The Beer Store). But this system started breaking down as different types of containers, such as large plastic bottles and steel cans, became more popular. The soft drink companies and retailers considered it inconvenient and expensive to put more deposits on more types of containers. A decision would have to be made. Ontarians could continue throwing everything into the landfills and be wasteful, or they could pay deposits on all kinds of materials, which would be complicated, expensive and hard to track. Some environmentalists thought of a third idea: these materials could be collected at curbside and RECYCLED! Many experts in both government and private sector said recycling would never work. The prevailing wisdom among professional waste management experts was that people at home and at work would not want to go to the trouble of sorting their own garbage. With this thought in mind, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment planned to build its own mechanical garbage sorting facility. The idea was that this machinery would sort all the garbage into waste or recycling, and Ontarians could continue to simply throw everything away. Stephenson, Isaacs, Cook and other like-minded environmentalists thought this would be too expensive, would result in high levels of contamination in the recycled materials, and — perhaps most importantly — would not educate people about the need to make better use of our resources nor actively involve them in the solution. They also realized that they could not simply argue that recycling would work; they had to show it could be done.

Blue Boxes are born

In 1974, Stephenson and McGinnis put a small plan into action. They did pilot programs in several areas, including Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood and the Canadian Forces Base at Borden. These programs had a very high participation rate. At one site, they collected so much recycled material that they bent the frame on one of the trucks. During the 1,500-household Kitchener pilot program that followed, they decided to distribute boxes in which homeowners could put their recyclables. At the time, the manufacturer only had blue coloured boxes, and so only blue boxes were provided to the home owners. Right away, participation was 85 per cent. Pretty soon, people who didn't get Blue Boxes started asking for them, and the program was expanded to all of Kitchener. In 1981, the Minister of the Environment announced funding for municipalities to start blue box programs. After Mississauga joined Kitchener with its own blue box program in 1986, recycling took off, expanding to Toronto, across Ontario and to pilot programs in 16 cities around the world by the end of the 1980s. Even by the end of 1988, a million households in Ontario were recycling. Today, more than 95 per cent of Ontario households have access to blue boxes.

What happens to the collected materials?

Garbage collection in Ontario is managed by municipalities, which either employ their own staff, contract collection to a private company, or combine both methods (as is done in Toronto). Collection trucks are often now equipped to take different types of materials in separate compartments — there’s one for plastics and metal, one for paper products, and so on. The trucks take their haul to sorting centres, where they are processed (further segregated, compressed and baled). Organic (compostable) materials are usually collected in separate trucks and taken to composting facilities. From the sorting centres, the recyclable materials are marketed to companies that can reuse them. Today’s paper industry, for example, uses large amounts of recycled paper. Currently, Ontario’s Blue Box program is overseen by the Waste Diversion Organization, a stand-alone government agency. Stewardship Ontario (a not-for-profit agency funded by Ontario-based brand owners, first importers or manufacturers of the products and packaging materials) manages the industry-funding component of the programs. In addition to operating the Blue Box financing program, Stewardship Ontario also manages Orange Drop, a recycling and safe disposal program for hazardous or special waste. The result of more than a generation of effort on recycling is a big success — a made-in-Ontario solution that has grown hand-in-hand with the environmental movement and became a recycling model for the rest of the world.
Rob Leverty, Cecil Louis and Ron Reid

Protecting the Niagara Escarpment

By Rob Leverty, Cecil Louis and Ron Reid
From Queenston on the Niagara River to Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario is blessed with the Niagara Escarpment. Rob, Cecil and Ron tell stories about the struggles to protect the Escarpment from development.

The Niagara Escarpment, a 450 million-year formation that dominates the landscape in the most populated and densely developed part of Canada. It’s a much-loved wonderland — a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve with abundant forests, farms, wetlands, recreation areas, hiking trails (including the Bruce Trail), historic sites, scenic villages and towns. The Escarpment’s rich ecosystems support 300 bird species, 53 mammals, 36 reptiles and amphibians, 90 fish and 100 varieties of special interest plant life, including 37 types of wild orchids. The Escarpment area is, rich with dolostone, sand, and gravel - the perfect material to quarry for building roads and for construction. In the early 1960s, as southern Ontario was growing, developers and aggregate operators targeted the Escarpment as an ideal source of building material. Meanwhile, Escarpment area farmland was becoming a magnet for residential subdivision development. As these problems escalated, citizens, the provincial government and environmental groups became concerned. Three people caught up in the early struggles to preserve the Niagara Escarpment were Cecil Louis, who was working for the Ontario government as a planner at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ron Reid, a naturalist on the staff of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON) and Rob Leverty who became the Executive Director of the Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment (CONE), an organization formed by the FON and other concerned environmentalists to protect the Escarpment. The Political Situation in the 1960s and 70s The Ontario government in the 1960s and 1970s (like all Ontario governments since), was seeking to balance explosive growth in southern Ontario with the need to protect and preserve green space, and the Niagara Escarpment was top of mind. In 1967, then-Premier John Robarts commissioned Len Gertler from the University of Waterloo to write a report with recommendations on how to protect the Escarpment. Gertler took an unusual, almost revolutionary approach to planning for the Escarpment. His report came out before environmentalism and ecosystems were household words, yet it recommended protecting large parts of the Escarpment from development, with decisions to be made by an appointed group. This represented new thinking on two levels. Up to the late 1960s land use planning was left largely to local governments, which tended to favour development to expand their tax bases. Gertler called for regional planning that looked at what would be best for the whole province. He implied in his report that a feature like the Niagara Escarpment clearly transcended municipal boundaries, thus requiring provincial level planning. The other element of the new thinking was that the Escarpment should be protected because of its beautiful landscapes. Until then, it was not customary for governments to attach too much value to natural beauty, other than creating an occasional new park. In 1973, the Ontario government, headed by William Davis, who succeeded John Robarts as premier, moved forward with adopting the planning report by passing legislation to protect the Niagara Escarpment – the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act (“the Act”). Premier Davis also set up the 17-member Niagara Escarpment Commission to prepare a Niagara Escarpment Plan, and to decide what development would be allowed in the area. After the Act was passed, the battle to protect the Escarpment began in earnest, and it was long and intense. Developers, aggregate companies, landowners and some municipal governments were up in arms over the restrictions that were put in place under the Act, so they lobbied hard to soften those restrictions as much as possible. This battle lasted over many years, and became one of the biggest public struggles over the environment that ever took place in Ontario. It was constantly in the media and was mentioned all around Ontario. Post-Niagara Escarpment Act The opposition caused by the passing of the Act led to a counter protest by environmentalists at Queen’s Park in 1978, followed by the formation of the CONE. Its matriarch was Lyn MacMillan, and other members included Ron Reid, along with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Canadian Nature Federation, Pollution Probe and the citizen-led Foundation for Aggregate Studies. CONE’s first test was to fight the construction of a proposed executive retreat to be built at the Forks of the Credit River on the Escarpment. MacMillan deployed her extensive network of contacts to arrange a meeting with then-Premier Davis. The goal was to persuade him to boost the funding available to buy up ecologically sensitive areas so they could be protected. Premier Davis finally committed $25 million to land protection. . Over the years (before and after the Act became law), all three parties in the Ontario Legislature have officially supported the Escarpment legislation and protection policies The late NDP MPP Mel Swart was particularly supportive of the Escarpment. Other supportive Members of the Ontario Legislative Assembly were Conservative MPP Norm Sterling, Liberal MPP Jim Bradley and NDP MPP Ruth Grier. Sterling, Bradley and Grier also served as Ministers responsible for the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The Niagara Escarpment Today Under the Act, the Niagara Escarpment Plan was approved by Cabinet in 1985, setting out detailed land use policies l. It was t updated in 1990 and again in1995, as required by the Act. The next review will take place in 2015. Today, developers and aggregate companies remain aggressive in their efforts to gain approval for projects in the Niagara Escarpment. It is the job of the Niagara Escarpment Commission to review every application. The Commission typically receives about 550 permit applications each year; it approves about 90 per cent of these, after ensuring that the proposals are in conformity with the policies of the plan, that are designed to keep the Escarpment protected. The result today is a remarkable, environmentally protected area within easy reach of millions of Ontarians and visitors. Every year, some 400,000 visitors come to the Escarpment, thanks to the foresight of the Ontario provincial government, and the consistent support of the many members of the general public acting as part of, or in concert with, Coalition on the Niagara Escarpment.
Dennis Caplice, Victor Rudik, Wayne Scott

Ministry of the Environment: Part One

By Dennis Caplice, Victor Rudik, Wayne Scott
It wasn’t that long ago in Ontario when there was no Ministry of the Environment. But it seems like we’ve moved ahead by light years.

Before the Ministry was created in 1972, pollution control was left to a hodgepodge of municipal and provincial regulations and agencies. Industries’ answer to pollution was to build higher smokestacks and longer outflow pipes to spread their emissions and discharges farther away — out of sight and out of mind, but unfortunately, not out of the environment. Farmers could go into the waste disposal business by renting out land, allowing in dumpsters and covering the garbage with dirt. Sewage treatment plants needed to be upgraded, flood plains needed to be controlled, air quality needed attention. It all needed to be coordinated. There weren’t consistent patterns as to how decisions were made about the environment. For example, it was a major event when then-Premier William Davis stopped construction on Toronto’s Spadina Expressway in 1971, but it was done by Cabinet order (really his own order) — none of the legal challenges brought by neighbourhood groups had worked. It’s not that people were unaware. The idea that something different had to be done in Ontario to deal with the environment began to percolate years before the Ministry came into being and started to do its work. In 1970, George Kerr, who would later become Ontario’s first Environment Minister, referred to polluters as “thieves”. This was strong language at the time. There was still reluctance even consider to tough environmental controls. People in those days spoke about raising their “consciousness”, and this actually started to happen. On April 22, 1970, the world’s first Earth Day, MPPs handed out phosphate-free detergent to people in the street, explaining how it was better for the water. That same day, then-Premier John Robarts (Davis’ predecessor) told Ontarians that the time would come when governments may need to forbid certain types of development if it meant protecting the environment — even if that meant giving up tax revenues. It was controversial. “While I do not relish the idea, I am convinced that we, the province and municipalities, must institute very firm controls in some areas of Ontario,” he warned. This was a bold enough warning to merit front-page coverage in the Toronto Star, which noted that the Premier’s words meant something almost shocking: “Industries might not always be able to establish where they want to.” Yet while demonstrators in Washington, Toronto and around the world marched that day to draw attention to the environment, the legal and governmental mechanisms to act on Robarts’ ideas were still a good two years away. And the tools that we now use — the regulatory and review system, was even farther off. The Ministry of the Environment came to life in 1972, with Kerr as Minister. But it wasn’t until two years later, in the 1974 Throne Speech, that the government announced it was bringing in a new Environmental Assessment Act. This meant that for the first time, there would be a formal way to review the impact of new proposals on our land and water. It fell to senior government officials — the bureaucrats — to make sense of what was then a new, but important way of looking at our surroundings in Ontario. There was resistance — not everyone in government or in industry wanted an Environment Ministry, and even today, some people don’t like environmental assessments — and there was a lot to learn. Officials would visit industries to inspect them and be asked: “Why are you here?” And from the other side, members of the public would ask: “Why aren’t you doing more?” The new Environmental Assessment Act, which became law in 1975, provided the framework for, as it says, “the betterment of the people of the whole or any part of Ontario by providing for the protection, conservation and wise management in Ontario of the environment.” As with many effective laws, it draws criticism from both sides — opponents say it slows development and industry and proponents say it could offer more protection. What the Act, and the Ministry, do seek to achieve is to provide the method and the process to act on changing thinking about our environment. There have been significant achievements. For example, in 1994 a Class (comprehensive, across-the-board) Environmental Assessment of timber management led to considerable rethinking about how we manage our Crown forests, putting more focus than before on sustainability. This has led to a wider consensus — and some formal accords — to make our forests more sustainable. Other environmental assessments under the act have tackled waste management, transmission lines and electricity supply. The Ministry, meanwhile also led the way in many areas, with a comprehensive program to combat acid rain, a watershed-wide management plan for Lake Simcoe and its wide-ranging sewage abatement program for municipalities and industries across the province. Is it perfect? Perfection may always be elusive, and there’s still a lot to learn. But it is progress — measurable pollution prevention, real enforcement and a framework for assessing environmental impact. Listen to the stories of the Ministry’s pioneers and how they worked to make Ontario’s Environment Ministry come to life.