Prescribing MTO: More Scrutiny of Ontario’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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Since the inception of the Environmental Bill of Rights in 1994, the Ministry of Transportation has been one of a number of ministries not subject to all of the provisions of the EBR. In fact, to date, MTO’s participation has been limited to creating a Statement of Environmental Values and posting proposals for new environmentally significant Acts and policies on the Registry for public comment. But in June 2003, two applicants requested that the Ministry of Transportation be made subject to Part IV of the Environmental Bill of Rights. The request, if granted, could permit residents of Ontario to ask for reviews of MTO’s policies and prescribed Acts, regulations, and instruments such as permits and licences. It would also allow the public to ask MTO to review the need for new Acts, regulations and policies. The applicants believe that the EBR’s application for review procedure should apply to MTO and its activities because of the environmental impacts of highway development and use, and because they believe that MTO should also consider and promote modes of travel other than highway-based, including alternatives such as rail. (See also A Sustainable Transportation System for Ontario.) In autumn 2004, before MOE had finalized its decision on this June 2003 application, another application was made by a different set of applicants, requesting essentially the same outcome and for similar reasons: their concerns about the environmental impacts of transportation activities.

Granting the requests of these applicants would require amending a regulation administered by the Ministry of the Environment – O.Reg. 73/94 under the Environmental Bill of Rights. This regulation specifies which ministries of the Ontario government are subject to all or parts of the EBR.

Ministry response

The ECO forwarded the first application to MOE in July 2003. MOE subsequently advised the applicants, on September 9, 2003, that the ministry would conduct the requested review and that it was expected to take six months. But, in fact, the review took two years.

Between September 2003 and April 2005, MOE wrote to the first applicants and the ECO on five separate occasions to extend the timeline to carry out this review. The last advisory, dated April 12, 2005, indicated that the applicants could expect the review to be completed by June 30, 2005, and that a written response would arrive by the end of July 2005. Over this period, the second application arrived and was forwarded to MOE. MOE indicated to these applicants that a second review would not be necessary since one dealing with the matter of prescribing MTO was already under way. According to a letter from MOE in early 2005 to the second set of applicants, they would be notified of the outcome when the results of the ongoing review were available. The following response was directed to both sets of applicants on September 28, 2005, nearly two months later than promised.

The Ministry of Transportation undertakes a variety of policy and legislative activities that the public has an interest in, and that are potentially environmentally significant. Most visible amongst these would be activities related to the creation, maintenance and operation of transportation infrastructure. While the public is currently able to comment on environmentally significant policy and legislative proposals initiated by the ministry through the Environmental Registry, the public would benefit from being able to more actively participate in environment-related transportation decisions by proposing ideas for improving the environment to the Ministry of Transportation for its consideration. As a result of these findings, the Ministry of the Environment recommends prescribing the Ministry of Transportation for the purposes of applications for review under the Environmental Bill of Rights. MOE and MTO further identified some Acts administered by MTO that both ministries agreed had environmentally significant aspects. They include the Airports Act, 1990; the Public Transportation and Highway Improvement Act, 1990; the Railways Act, 1950 (as amended); and the Short Line Railways Act, 1995.

The ministries acknowledged that since these Acts provide for the construction and implementation of infrastructure projects on a massive scale, activities conducted under the powers of these Acts could have significant effects on the environment.

ECO Comment

The ECO recognizes that the transportation sector in Ontario has substantial impacts on the natural environment. The sector is responsible for almost one-third of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a large contributor of the emissions that lead to smog Ontario’s road network leaves a major footprint on the landscape, resulting in altered waterways and fragmented ecosystems. Roads in Ontario also demand enormous amounts of aggregate and salt for maintenance or expansion each year.

The applications under the EBR raised many of the issues that the ECO regards as valid Each year, our office receives complaints directly from the public about the local impacts of transportation-related undertakings in many parts of the province. Thus, the ECO welcomes the opportunity for the public to initiate reviews of MTO’s policies and hopes that it will improve the public dialogue regarding Ontario’s system of transportation planning and environmental protection. We commend the Ministries of Environment and Transportation for moving forward in this regard.

Furthermore, because specific Acts must be prescribed for reviews in order for applicants to submit requests for reviews of those Acts and any regulations that may flow from them, the ECO believes it would be worthwhile for MOE and MTO to prescribe the following Acts as well under Part IV of the EBR: the Highway Traffic Act, 1990; the GO Transit Act, 2001; the Dangerous Goods Transportation Act, 1990; and the Toronto Area Transit Operating Authority Act, 1990.

The ECO also believes that MOE and MTO should consider ensuring that certain future legislative initiatives, for example, legislation involving transportation in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area, are captured under the EBR’s request for review provisions.

This is an article from the 2005/06 Annual Report to the Legislature from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

Citing This Article:
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 2006. "Prescribing MTO: More Scrutiny of Ontario’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles." Neglecting our Obligations, ECO Annual Report, 2005-06. Toronto, ON : Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. 132-134.

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