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.
Sarah Miller, John Jackson, Jeanne Jabanoski

Great Lakes United

By Sarah Miller, John Jackson, Jeanne Jabanoski
The Great Lakes form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth and 21% of the world's surface fresh water.

Great Lakes United: Cross-border coalition pushed Great Lakes issues onto political agenda

By the 1970s, the ecological fate of the Great Lakes hung in the balance. Lake Erie was choked with algae, toxic dump sites were leaking poisons into the Niagara River, and the media routinely featured graphic reports of fish kills and deformed waterfowl. Yet despite the mounting evidence, federal, provincial and state governments on both sides of the basin were ponderously slow to respond to the rapid decline of the Great Lakes. Into that vacuum of leadership stepped Great Lakes United (GLU), one of the first and, in its time, one of the most effective cross-border environmental coalitions. In a series of well planned campaigns, delivered with passion and backed by solid research, GLU facilitated citizen action, lobbied politicians and other decision-makers on the looming environmental crisis, and offered practical solutions on issues threatening the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Three former Great Lakes United Board members – former Environment Canada and Toronto Public Health official Jeanne Jabanoski, environmental activist and academic John Jackson, and now retired Canadian Environmental Law Association researcher Sarah Miller – discuss the early days of the organization and the evolution of environmental issues over the last 35 years in the Great Lakes basin. John also served as GLU’s president and vice president, Sarah as its vice president, and Jeanne as its Canadian treasurer for two terms.

The Beginning

In May 1982, a diverse group of conservationists, environmentalists, trade unionists, First Nations reps, educators and scientists from Canada and the United States gathered for two days in a sunlit meeting room on Michigan’s Mackinac Island to find a way to work together and focus attention on some of the key issues facing the Great Lakes. A new binational coalition was officially launched six months later during an organizing meeting in Windsor, Ontario. Great Lakes United – a name chosen after hours of debate – reflected the members’ overriding desire to work together for a common cause, while the witty acronym GLU represented “the group that holds the Great Lakes together.” By 1984, some 100 groups had gathered under the GLU banner. The coalition first coalesced around its members’ opposition to an ambitious and environmentally invasive proposal by the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers to open the Great Lakes, via the St. Lawrence River, to winter shipping.  Concerned by the destructive impact of ice breaking on fish and wildlife habitat and the increased risk of spills, GLU succeeded in persuading the U.S. Congress to shelve the project in 1984.

Early success

That early success was followed by a series of effective, well planned campaigns that are still remembered for their inventive tactics. For instance, GLU co-hosted a “toxic buffet” for Washington, D.C. decision-makers featuring a menu of lake-caught salmon, trout and sturgeon – each with its toxic contaminants listed – and drinking water sourced from each of the Great Lakes. The deformed cormorant Cosmo, its beak twisted and distorted by the mutagenic chemicals in its parents’ diet, made several memorable appearances at press conferences in the Region and congressional hearings in Washington DC. In 1986, GLU toured communities around the lakes, holding high-profile community hearings where local residents voiced their concerns about environmental issues and toxic threats. The findings from GLU’s hearings became an important basis for the Canadian and U.S. governments’ renegotiation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1987. Again and again, GLU’s reasoned arguments and impassioned campaigns derailed major water diversion proposals, focused attention on the toxic effects of air and water pollution on wildlife, supported passage of the Great Lakes Charter on water diversions and the Four-Party Niagara River Toxics Management Agreement, and helped strengthen the U.S. Clean Water Act. GLU staff also worked with local groups to build support for the development of Remedial Action Plans (or RAPS) for the then 42 areas of concern in some of the most contaminated sites around the basin, and successfully lobbied for the addition of a 43rd site to this action list.

Debate continues over tactics

By May 1986, GLU’s member groups totaled 200. However, despite the early and on-going effectiveness of GLU, members continued to debate whether the organization should embrace political action by mobilizing and coordinating grassroots advocacy, or whether it should be a looser coalition, focused on education and information sharing.
“GLU's success was the care they took to be inclusive and democratic. I remember a lot of hard work that aimed for consensus on the principles that would guide campaign programs and actions each year.” — Sarah Miller
In the end, GLU adopted a compromise approach, supporting and facilitating the campaigns of local groups, while giving voice to those community concerns on the basin-wide international stage. In turn, the exuberance and local expertise of the grassroots groups kept GLU on the cutting edge of environmental developments. For example, GLU and its membership pioneered the ‘ecosystem approach’ and the ‘zero discharge’ goal. They insisted that Great Lakes governance needed to be guided by these concepts. As a result of the success of its community hearings on Great Lakes issues in 1986, GLU was granted official observer status during the formal negotiations between Canada and the U.S. on the 1987 update of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). And when GLU talked, politicians listened because they knew the coalition was backed by hundreds of organizations with tens of thousands of members.

Working with the IJC

GLU also played an integral role in the deliberations of the International Joint Commission (IJC), the independent binational body established by the U.S. and Canada to regulate shared water uses and investigate transboundary issues. The biennial IJC meetings in the 1980s and early 90s provided a platform for GLU to raise concerns, often loudly and boisterously, about contaminated sediments, human health effects, invasive species and climate changes effects on the Great Lakes, and to push for the ‘zero discharge’ of priority pollutants to both the Commission and the international media. However the terms of the 1987 GLWQA, assigning operational responsibility for much of the action on the Great Lakes back to the individual federal, state and provincial agencies, undermined the influence of the IJC and, ultimately, binational coalitions like GLU. The organization continued to work and contribute to the environmental discourse, but the binational Great Lakes community of governments, scientists, and activists was weakening. Funding foundations moved on to embrace other causes, while government funding for citizen participation evaporated. The renewal and modernization of the GLWQA – the focus of so much of GLU's work – was put ‘on hold’ for almost 10 years. The Canadian federal government quietly abandoned its Great Lakes commitments, while the U.S. funded local agencies to carry on their Great Lakes projects unilaterally. These changes in the Great Lakes activities and community made the challenge of maintaining the binational coalition of Great Lakes United ever more challenging. GLU’s Board of Directors made the difficult decision to close down the organization’s operations and Buffalo office on July 1, 2013. Although individual former GLU members remain active, they sorely miss the coordinated international voice that GLU provided for the Great Lakes.  
Jim Drummond, Nels Conroy, Dennis Draper

Pulp and Paper Mills

By Jim Drummond, Nels Conroy, Dennis Draper
A 30-year Odyssey: Curbing water pollution in the pulp and paper industry

In 1850, the first Canadian pulp and paper mill began operating in the Don Valley of Toronto. A little over a century later, there were more than a 140 pulp and paper mills situated along the great rivers of the North – including 31 in Ontario – providing tens of thousands of jobs, driving exports and underpinning the national economy. For a time, nearly every sheet of every newspaper printed around the world was made from pulp processed in Canadian mills. But along with the considerable economic benefits they conferred, those mills were also contributing huge loadings of air and water pollutants to the environment. Three former managers with the Ontario Ministry of Environment – Jim Drummond, Nels Conroy and Dennis Draper – share their experiences in the field, in the lab and in the courts while they worked to reduce wastewater discharges from pulp and paper mills across Ontario. Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller also contributes some stories of his early years as a district officer with MOE in Northern Ontario.

Pollution was killing the great rivers of Northern Ontario

Pulp and paper mills had a huge impact on the rivers that received their wastes.  For up to 40 miles downriver from a mill, there were no fish, nobody boated or swam, and nobody drank the water. Mats of bark and wood chips covered the entire river bed for miles, destroying aquatic habitat and smothering spawning grounds, while brown foam floated on the surface. Extremely toxic contaminants built up in the sediments and bioaccumulated in any aquatic species that survived. Foul smelling pollutants and smoke billowed into the sky; some called it “the smell of prosperity.”

The first pollution control objectives are proposed

For much of the 20th Century, governments ignored or excused the environmental excesses of the industry.  The first wastewater quality objectives for the province’s pulp and paper mills were contained in a non-enforceable directive setting targets for improved water quality that was issued in 1965. All of these targets were to have been met by the end of 1969. None were. By 1975, as a result of a series of voluntary abatement programs, about half of Ontario's mills had managed to cut their gross discharges of wastewater and a handful had achieved the 1965 objectives. However, others had actually increased the amount of waste they were dumping into Ontario waters. In 1970, the federal government amended their Fisheries Act so they could issue pollution control regulations for various industrial sectors. The following year, the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations were passed, which set some limits on the bark, wood fibres and other organic material being dumped, and prohibited the release of effluents that were killing fish. However, the standards applied only to new, expanded and/or altered mills. For existing mills, the federal limits served as non-enforceable guidelines. Only an estimated ten percent of mills were forced to comply with the federal limits, minimizing their environmental impact. Other regulations made under the Fisheries Act limited the mercury in liquid effluents and included sampling and reporting requirements, while separate regulations under the Clean Air Act to control air-borne emissions were put in place in 1978.

Mercury pollution in the English-Wabigoon river system

By the late 1960s, the first concerns about mercury poisoning were being raised on the White Dog and Grassy Narrows reserves in Northwestern Ontario. Since 1962, up to 20 pounds a day of mercury had been dumped into the English-Wabigoon river system from a chlor-alkali plant operated by Reed Paper Limited (formerly the Dryden Chemical Company) to produce the chlorine used in bleaching pulp. While the province ordered the company to stop discharging mercury in March 1970 – and all commercial (but not sport) fishing in the river was banned – mercury releases persisted under various extensions granted to the company. Airborne emissions also continued until the company stopped using its mercury-based process in October 1975. By that time, the sub-acute symptoms of Minamata disease, a severe and irreversible neurological disorder, were being diagnosed among dozens of residents on the two reserves. Minamata is caused by high exposure to methyl-mercury, which bioaccumulated in the fish that comprised a large part of the diet on the reserves. When the company was sold in 1979, an estimated 16 tonnes of mercury remained in the river sediments, and mercury-related health problems are still being reported in the reserves to this day.

Ontario resorts to control orders and court cases

Other than the federal regulations, there were no minimum industrial discharge standards covering pulp and paper mills operating in Ontario. In order to reduce wastewater discharges and air emissions, the District Offices of the Ministry of the Environment began to impose a series of Control Orders on individual mills under the authority of the Environmental Protection Act. Companies were installing new processing and pollution control equipment, tightening up operations and reducing wastes. In addition, new energy-efficient, low-waste paper-making technologies were slowly replacing some of the older, dirtiest mills. As a result, gross pollution from the industry was finally being brought under control. Between 1970 and 1984, the amount of bark, fibres and other suspended solids had been cut by 75 per cent. Organic waste discharges, which would decompose downstream stripping much of the oxygen from the water, were down by almost 60 per cent. However, certain problem areas still required further attention, including the release of dioxins, furans and other chlorinated wastes, phosphorous, toluene, phenol and certain odorous air pollutants, as well as excessive levels of organic wastes and suspended solids still being discharged from some mills.

Ontario uses Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement to curb toxic effluents

In 1986, the Ministry launched its Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA) to identify and reduce the water pollutants from nine different sectors, including the pulp and paper industry, with the goal of virtually eliminating certain toxic contaminants. Working with industry representatives and a multi-stakeholder advisory committee, the Ministry spent the next five years collecting effluent monitoring data and assessing the best available control technologies and pollution prevention opportunities for reducing emissions from each sector. Finally, in November 1993, the Ministry issued the Effluent Monitoring and Effluent Limits regulation (O. Reg. 760/93), which set stringent discharge limits for each of the province’s remaining 27 pulp and paper mills. Mill discharges also had to meet strict toxicity tests, and the nine mills that still used chlorine bleaching had to completely phase out their release of organochlorines by 2002. Overall, the MISA regulation was expected to reduce persistent toxic compounds from the pulp and paper sector by up to 90 per cent, based on 1990 levels.

Updating the federal standards

After extensive consultation, the federal Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations were completely revised in May 1992. All pulp and paper mills are now required to meet the effluent quality standards, ensure their wastewaters were not lethal to fish, and undertake comprehensive environmental effects monitoring. Two additional sets of amendments to the federal regulations were adopted in 2004 and 2008, focused mainly on monitoring and reporting requirements, while streamlining toxicity testing and biological monitoring. In recent years, the economic restructuring of the industry and a switch to more competitive sources of pulp in the tropics have also served to curb discharges. It took nearly 30 years, but authorities had finally brought the environmental impacts of the pulp and paper sector under control.
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.
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.
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.
Jim Robb, Cathy Gregorio and Lois James

Protecting the Rouge River: A Priceless Watershed

By Jim Robb, Cathy Gregorio and Lois James
Are you a friend of the Rouge? These days it’s hard not to be, if you know about this amazing ecosystem teeming with rare and endangered wildlife, right in the Greater Toronto Area. Our guests talk about the road blocks they faced in saving the Rouge Valley system.

Rouge Park (The Rouge) is a magnificent semi-wilderness area nestled within Canada’s most populous region. It covers more than 45 square kilometres and has two National Historic Sites, including a significant First Nation village site and an old portage route. The Rouge is so ecologically important that it’s on the way to becoming Canada’s first Urban National Park — a national park that will be accessible by public transit. Saving the Rouge ecosystem has been a long journey, driven by the hard work of many environmental and community groups such as Save the Rouge Valley System (SRVS), which mobilized people to support the creation of Rouge Park; and Friends of the Rouge Watershed, which developed programs and activities so people can enjoy, learn about, and help restore the ecological health of the Park and watershed. Today, Friends of the Rouge Watershed still works to protect and restore the beautiful Rouge Park. Each year, more than 10,000 school children visit the Rouge, studying its ecosystems, and perhaps most importantly, enjoying nature just minutes away from downtown and suburban neighbourhoods. Early Days The struggle to save the Rouge began in the 1970s, when Toronto was expanding with never-ending development. During that time, Torontonians noticed that there was still beautiful wilderness tucked into the city’s northeast corner. In 1975, local citizens formed SRVS to advocate for better planning and protection for the Rouge River and the valley system. In 1967, a rich wetland northeast of Meadowvale Road and Hwy 401 was set aside for Canada’s Centennial. Even with this commemorative event, developers came and simply drained the wetland. To make matters worse, between 1965 and 1983, there was an active landfill near the Rouge Valley, east of the Toronto Zoo site. Anyone who lived there at that time will remember lots of garbage trucks, seagulls, dust, odours and rats. The growing threats of urban sprawl spurred the SRVS. Developer after developer seemed to come and gobble up wetlands and forests. More needed to be done. Building Local Political Support   In 1987, Joyce Trimmer, a Scarborough city councillor (later mayor of that city before it was amalgamated with Toronto), attended a SRVS meeting. Trimmer gave tough but crucial feedback helping focus the group and its goals. The group’s first political experience was not encouraging. In the mid-1980s, they built public awareness of plans to develop 5,000 acres of land around the Rouge River Valley. But when Scarborough City Council voted, only Trimmer and one other councillor, Edith Montgomery, supported protecting Scarborough Rouge lands. SRVS didn’t give up. Instead, they doubled their efforts to build a broad coalition of community, environmental and political groups, with public support. More than 1,000 people turned up for two Scarborough Council meetings. In 1988, Council voted to protect the 5,000 acres surrounding the Rouge Valley in northeast Toronto. SRVS volunteers knew that the river, which supports the health of the valley and watershed, was still imperiled. There were plans for an adjacent highway and a bigger landfill and developments. SRVS had an idea, an alternative to endless development — the creation of a protected Rouge Park. Another successful fight was the People or Planes campaign. In the 1970s, the provincial and federal governments purchased more than 30,000 acres by the Rouge River. The plan was to create a greenbelt surrounding a proposed international airport in North Pickering. In the end, the airport was not built, leaving most of these lands in public hands and potentially available for a Rouge Park. Meanwhile on the Federal and Provincial scene The Progressive Conservative (PC) government under then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, green for its time, was open to dialogue with activists. SRVS met with Pauline Browes, a PC Member of Parliament from Scarborough Centre, and the Waterfront Commissioner, David Crombie. Together, they gained support for the Rouge Valley from the federal government and then-Environment Minister Tom McMillan. The Save the Rouge campaign was political but non-partisan. In addition to Browes and the PCs, the Ontario Liberal government, under then-Premier David Peterson and Environment Minister Jim Bradley, also supported protecting the Rouge. Bradley’s key aides Gary Gallon, Mark Rudolph, Sarah Rang and David Oved made sure the issue had the government’s attention. In March 1990, Premier Peterson announced the province's plans to create a 10,500-acre (4,250-hectare) Rouge Park, from Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine — almost exactly what SRVS asked for. PC Premier Mike Harris’ government added land to the park in 2001, and in 2005 Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government created the Greenbelt, which placed Rouge Park as "main ecological link" between Lake Ontario and the Oak Ridges Moraine. Bob Hunter, the crusading environment reporter and a founder of Greenpeace, had encouraged SRVS volunteers to never give up, but he also told them to have a healthy dose of cynicism about government announcements. “If you’re not cynical, you’re not paying attention,” he said. His point: the battle for environmental protection does not end, it requires eternal activism. In memory of Bob Hunter, Premier McGuinty created Bob Hunter Memorial Park in 2006.
Toby Vigod, Rick Findlay, Doug Draper

Love Canal’s bigger toxic brother: The Niagara River

By Toby Vigod, Rick Findlay, Doug Draper
Love Canal has become synonymous with irresponsible waste disposal. Between 1947 and 1952, the Hooker Chemical Company dumped an estimated 19,700 tonnes of chemical waste into an abandoned canal which ran through its property in the Love Canal suburb of Niagara Falls, NY.

Between 1947 and 1952, the Hooker Chemical Company – now Occidental Chemical Corporation – dumped an estimated 19,700 tonnes of chemical waste into an abandoned canal which ran through its property in the Love Canal suburb of Niagara Falls, New York. The company buried thousands of 55-gallon metal drums filled with solvents, chlorinated hydrocarbons, acids, caustics and other toxic materials on the site and covered them with a clay cap, complying with the rudimentary environmental standards of the day. Other industrial generators, including the US Army, also dumped their chemical wastes in the Love Canal. By 1953, the site was full and Hooker Chemical sold the property to the local school board for the token amount of one dollar. Despite warnings that the clay cap should not be disturbed or the site excavated, storm sewers, roads and utilities were installed, two elementary schools were erected and hundreds of homes were built over (or adjacent to) the slowly deteriorating drums of highly toxic waste. In June 1958, the first reports of children developing skin rashes after playing on the property appeared. By 1976, residents were complaining of chemical odours, birth defects, miscarriages, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. The local press and, soon afterwards, the national media picked up the story. And following the airing of a critical and widely-viewed documentary, The Killing Ground, on national television, federal regulatory authorities began to take action.
It was so dramatic. [The wastes in Love Canal] literally destroyed the neighbourhood ... [There were] swing sets, pools in the backyard – it could be your neighbourhood – literally melting in this toxic pool.
On May 21, 1980, US President Jimmy Carter declared a federal health emergency and, in several phases, residents were evacuated from more than 900 homes in a 10-block area surrounding the canal. The notoriety of the Love Canal spurred the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in 1980 and the establishment of the Superfund remediation program which expanded to cover the excavation and containment of hazardous wastes leaking from hundreds of abandoned dump sites across the US. The Love Canal disposal site was covered by a synthetic liner and clay cap and surrounded by a barrier drainage system. Contamination from the site is still being controlled by a leachate collection and treatment facility. While the New York State Health Commissioner eventually allowed 250 of the abandoned homes to be resettled, hundreds more were demolished and a 16-hectare portion of the site remains empty and overgrown, locked behind security fences to this day. In September 2004, the Love Canal was removed from the Superfund’s National Priority List (NPL). Hyde Park, the “seeping giant” While the Love Canal got most of the headlines, Hooker Chemical continued to dump another 72,600 tonnes of chemical waste – four times more than what went into Love Canal – down the road into the six-hectare Hyde Park Landfill from 1953 to 1975. These were, primarily, chlorobenzenes, toluenes, halogenated aliphatics, and 2,4,5-trichlorophenol still bottoms. While all these compounds pose a serious threat to human health, the still bottoms were contaminated with up to 1.45 tonnes of dioxin, widely acknowledged as one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. That made Hyde Park the single largest deposit of dioxins in the world. And those dangerous chemical wastes were not staying put. Some 600 metres to the northeast of the site, the Niagara River flows north towards Lake Ontario, the primary source of drinking water for millions of people on both sides of the border. The ominously named Bloody Run Creek flowed through the landfill, then under a neighbouring industrial property and through a storm sewer that emptied into the Niagara Gorge. In addition, contaminated groundwater moved through both the glacial overburden and the heavily fractured dolomite bedrock outwards and downwards towards the Niagara Gorge. In 1979, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued Hooker Chemical to force the company to remediate the site. Two Canadian environmental groups – Operation Clean Niagara and Pollution Probe, both represented by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) – intervened as amici curiae or “friends of the court” in the federal district court that hammered out and ratified the private settlement agreement between the company and the EPA in April 1982.
Hyde Park was just one [of hundreds of toxic waste sites in the Niagara Frontier], and perhaps one of the less really scary ones in a sense – it was in a hole in the ground and partly contained. There were others that were literally on the banks of the [Niagara] river.
The Hyde Park site was listed on the NPL in September 1983. An aquifer survey, completed that year, defined the extent of contamination and a final remedial action plan was approved by the court in 1986. To date, a landfill cap installed in 1994 has decreased leachate generation, more than 1.1 million litres of dense oily liquids and some 23,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment have been removed and treated, and purge wells have been installed to contain contaminant plumes and prevent wastes from seeping into the Niagara River. Operation and maintenance of the groundwater removal and treatment systems will continue for the next 30 years. The Hyde Park case sparked a lot of political interest at both the federal and provincial levels, as well as the development of some analytical tools still used today to track minute amounts of extremely toxic chemicals through the environment.
There was quite a mobilization of resources in Canada from a scientific and technical point of view. The Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington … developed some really innovative research techniques for managing [tracking and monitoring] very small amounts of toxic chlorinated types of compounds.
The Hyde Park Landfill file is still active Today, most of the chemical wastes buried across the Niagara Frontier are still lying in the ground, with the capacity to remain toxic for hundreds of years, if not forever. In September 2012, CELA on behalf of the cross-border environmental coalition Great Lakes United wrote to the Emergency and Remedial Response Division of the US EPA to oppose the deletion of the Hooker Hyde Park Superfund site from the National Priorities List. While deletion from the NPL does not preclude the EPA from conducting additional waste “removal” activities at the site, the Agency would be barred from conducting more extensive “remedial” activities, such as such as groundwater treatment. According to CELA counsel Joseph F. Castrilli, “Many of the key reasons that necessitated Hyde Park being listed on the NPL in the 1980s continue to exist today. The chemicals are still there, they are still hazardous and, because of the remedial action strategy chosen, they require robust environmental management essentially forever.” For those reasons, Great Lake United opposes the deletion of Hyde Park from the NPL.
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.