Chapter 2

A Human Story

2.8 Land and resources

Natural resources and their derivatives are valuable, non-renewable collective capital, and we expect them to be carefully managed and protected by the State. We also expect that all citizens will be given the opportunity to participate fully in the conservation and efficient utilization of their ecological and energy assets. In Ontario, that includes Francophones.

Over the years, the Commissioner’s Office has received complaints about alleged failures to consider the Francophone community’s needs in the exploitation and management of resources. The Commissioner’s Office intervened in those cases, of course; the results were mixed.

That is true of the environmental assessment process, which contributes to the regulatory goal of “promot[ing] responsible environmental decision-making and ensur[ing] that interested persons have an opportunity to comment on projects that may affect them.”34 For example, in his 2008-2009 Annual Report, the Commissioner mentioned that an environmental assessment for a project that might have health effects had been carried out in a designated area without all the relevant documentation being available in French. The Ministry of the Environment took effective action and had the public consultation period extended and more information in French posted on the Web.

This year, however, after receiving six complaints about a landfill site project in a designated area for which the terms of reference were presented to citizens in English only, the Commissioner’s Office was unable to get the Ministry to have the developer provide a full translation of the document. While Francophone citizens had to get by without a French translation of a preliminary document which was essential to the environmental assessment process, the Ministry did require the proponent, subsequently, to accept additional obligations regarding consultations with the Francophone community. From a broader perspective, the Ministry also made a commitment to explore the possibility of incorporating in the codes of practice for project proponents specific provisions concerning consideration of Francophones’ needs. This is excellent news and shows definite leadership on the part of the Ministry.

While the foregoing ultimately falls into the win column, the Commissioner cannot say the same in the case of the energy corporations established under the Electricity Act, such as the Ontario Power Authority, which are not required to provide information in French about important subjects such as saving energy, or in the case of industry funding organizations, mandated under the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 to reclaim waste such as tires, batteries and electronic devices, which are similarly not required to provide information in French to Ontario’s citizens. Despite corrective recommendations to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of the Environment in the 2010-2011 Annual Report, there seems to have been little movement of significance on these files.

But things are far from a washout: after learning this year about a potential shortage of French-language programs for drinking water operators at the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, the Ministry of the Environment reacted promptly and, only a few months after the intervention by the Commissioner’s Office, reported that it had taken a series of proactive corrective measures, including a needs survey and consultations with the Association française des municipalités de l’Ontario (AFMO). Bravo!

The Commissioner intends to stay in contact with the various stakeholders in the resources sector over the next few years and keep mobilizing efforts so that Ontario’s Francophones can participate fully in the sensible management of their province’s resources.

 

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