OPSEU/SEFPO warns of consequences of slashing Environment ministry staffing

TORONTO, Dec. 20, 2021 /CNW/ – OPSEU/SEFPO is echoing concerns raised by the Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk on how the province is policing environmental law. In her reports, she continues to be critical of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks for its failure to enforce regulations, including those that deal with Ontario’s biggest polluters.

“This is déjà vu all over again,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “The Harris Tories slashed the Environment ministry – and the tragic result was seven people dead and 2,000 sickened from E. coli in Walkerton. I thought we learned 20 years ago that protecting the environment isn’t optional – it’s necessary.”

In recent reports, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has noted that the ministry has reduced compliance and enforcement staff by nine per cent from 2019, while enforcement activity has dropped. The ministry has laid just two charges for harming species at risk. In contrast, the Ministry of Natural Resources laid an average of 19 charges every single year when it was responsible for the act. The Auditor General also noted the lack of dedicated enforcement resources to enforce species at risk legislation. 

According to Shawn Burr, OPSEU/SEFPO Chair of the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks Ministry Employee Relations Committee (MERC), staffing cuts at the ministry have hit enforcement hard.

“These cuts are affecting many of the protections our professionals uphold, including proactive inspections, the recovery of costs of spills, and protecting species at risk. We keep being told to do more with less, and that just isn’t realistic when cuts are occurring and new programs are being added,” Burr said, adding that the situation is even more dire when you read Lysyk’s reports carefully. “This ministry is just not listening.”

“The government promised to keep polluters accountable in their Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan,” noted OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “But here you have the Environment ministry failing to recover costs from spills, and putting taxpayers on the hook instead of violators. That’s a disgrace. Ontario is open for business – not for footing polluters’ bills.”

“Bottom line, the ministry must restore staffing levels at the Ministry of the Environment,” concluded Thomas. “It’s just not reasonable for already-overworked members to take on even more.

“The government is rolling the dice, and the stakes are too high,” added Thomas. “We’re talking about the extinction of a species or human lives lost. And once they’re gone, they’re gone – there’s no bringing them back.”

SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO)

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