Last week, we posted chapter 13 of Don Drummond's report, the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services, the section on the Ministry of the Environment. Here, in brief, are his recommendations. Other than the general good advice that the MOE should eliminate duplication and charge more for its fee-based services, none of the recommendations will be quick, easy or cheap to implement. In fact, most of them have been government objectives for decades, but are very hard to achieve.
The easiest recommendation to implement is to charge more for services that are already fee-based. This one looks like a safe bet, especially re fees charged to businesses:
Recommendation 13- 1: Move towards full cost recovery, user-pay models for environmental programs and services
The report notes that existing fees are way behind the increasing costs of program delivery — it cites the example of PTTW, which might cost a few thousand dollars versus the price of $15 million per year the government pays to manage water quantity and encourage efficient use of the resource. Increasing the costs for a PTTW would force commercial/industrial water users pay for their use of water, and also would provide an incentive for efficient use of the water.
The MOE's approvals program recovers less than 40% of program costs, and highlights gaps in delivery standards in prior years, with application backlogs. The report cites a couple of success stories cited: the REA, which captures around 90% of its direct operating costs through revenue, and Drive Clean, a program which fully recovers its costs.
Restructuring Crown corporations is also easy, and they make more money if they charge more. But for OCWA, this could be just another form of downloading costs onto municipalities, an issue that Drummond does not address. Perhaps it will force more municipalities to raise what they charge for water and sewer services:
Recommendation 13-6: Review the effectiveness of the current governance structure of the Ontario Clean Water Agency to evaluate the merits of restructuring it as a for-profit, wholly owned government entity.
Consolidating agencies is comparatively easy, and may be worth doing, but can take a long time to save much money. The report also fails to come to grips with the reasons that some separate bodies (such as the Environmental Review Tribunal) were set up in the first place, such as ensuring that environmental considerations are not swept away by economically focussed bodies, such as the OMB:
Recommendation 13-7: Rationalize and consolidate the entities and agencies involved in land use planning and resources management.
Most other recommendations, however, simply repeat tough goals that the MOE has been trying to achieve for decades, without providing any new ideas on how to make them happen. These include:
Recommendation 13-3: Employ a risk-based approach for environmental approvals that focuses on improving outcomes and prevention.
Despite the recent overhaul of the approvals process to a risk-based system that uses current technology and addresses the complexity of approvals, more needs to be done. To illustrate, the report cited a 2009 class environmental approval application made in the Ring of Fire area of Northern Ontario that involved 81 hectares of Crown land. Regulators were surprised to find that the proponent had illegally begun construction, by clearing forest, building and using a mining work camp and airstrip. These activities had been conducted because the of delays in initiation of the class EA process. The report suggests that the approvals process focus on improving outcomes and prevention.
(full summary of Ring of Fire incident on pp 122-3 of ECO report at http://www.eco.on.ca/uploads/Reports-Annual/2009_10/ECO-Annual-Report-2009-2010.pdf )
Recommendation 13-2: Rationalize roles and responsibilities for environmental protection that are now shared across levels of government
The report notes "jurisdictional crowding" (overlap) in certain areas, e.g., the federal government moving into air quality/emissions, areas already regulated by the province, yet not becoming involved in areas where a national approach might make sense (e.g., waste reduction). But how can Ontario stop the federal government from taking unwise decisions?
Recommendation 13-4: Review opportunities to further streamline the environmental assessment process, such as co-ordinating further with the federal government's process or integrating it with certain approvals.
Recommendation 13-5: Place greater emphasis on prevention and the polluter-pay principle for contaminated sites using appropriate financial tools, such as financial assurance.
Recommendation 13-8: Ensure that the government's approach to the Ring of Fire maximizes opportunities for Aboriginal People and all Ontarians.
The full text of the report is at http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/reformcommission/chapters/report.pdf See ch. 13 on pp. 335 ff.
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