Canada: Losing Our Touch? Environmental Commissioner Reports

Last Updated: October 11 2012
Article by Dianne Saxe

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller has issued another sobering report. “Losing our Touch” is Part 2 of the 2011/2012 Annual Report. He concludes: “We are no longer a jurisdiction that the world looks up to.” (I admit I thought that Mike Harris made sure of that.) The Commissioner lists chapter after chapter of “bumbles and foibles”, often defeating the efforts of civic-minded individuals and communities to protect species and habitats. It’s discouraging reading.For example:

  • Why is logging allowed to go in Algonquin Park, one of the last refuges of brook trout, and the almost extinct blackfin cisco, without knowing how that logging is harming the fish? (And, as Algonquin Ecowatch has long pointed out, why don’t we effectively protect the old growth forest there either?)
  • Why do we still have no Anti-SLAPP legislation, despite the strong support of most stakeholders, including the Ontario Bar Association?
  • Why was bobolink protection cut back so greatly between the public consultation and the announcement?
  • Why has Essroc faced no enforcement action, despite nearly a decade of neighbourhood dust complaints, when minor wrongs by others result in prosecution? Essroc’s adverse effects on its neighbours were “clearly documented” in both 2008 and 2010. Why would the Ministry of the Environment Investigation and Enforcement Supervisor only learn about these many complaints after the limitation period had expired?
  • Why has Ontario done so little to prepare for the droughts and wildfires that we know climate change is bringing?
  • Why doesn’t the Provincial Wildlife Population Monitoring Program actually monitor wildlife populations?
  • Why do sewage lagoons receive operating permits that so overstate their treatment capacity?

With a green Premier and so many competent and devoted civil servants, why aren’t we doing better? The Commissioner says he is puzzled, and so am I.

He also calls for more protection of migratory bats when siting wind turbines, especially because bats are already under such threat from white nose disease:

The ECO is pleased that the Ontario government is giving special consideration to birds and
bats as wind power development increases across the province. The benefits of wind power
are substantial, and these guidelines should help wind power proponents and MNR to minimize
negative effects on birds, bats and their habitat.
Wind power has been demonized by some groups in Ontario. Vocal opponents cite a wide
range of reasons, including effects on birds and bats, to challenge proposed wind farms in their
communities. Opposition to wind power based on its impacts on birds is misguided, given the
relatively low bird mortality rate at wind turbines compared to other threats (such as buildings,
power lines and cats), and given its reduced impacts on wildlife compared to other forms of
energy. However, the ECO believes that wind power projects should be required to give IBAs a wide berth. MNR itself has acknowledged that location is a key factor in preventing potential adverse effects on birds; it would make sense to avoid constructing wind power projects in the most sensitive locations.

Between wind turbines and white nose syndrome, every species of bat in Ontario is under
increasing pressure. The ECO urges MNR to move quickly to develop criteria for identifying
and evaluating bat migratory stopover areas and related habitat, and to publicly consult on
the integration of those criteria into the Bat Guidelines. Given the importance of project site
selection on minimizing potential effects to bats, and the fact that migratory species are
most vulnerable to wind turbines, having criteria to identify and avoid developing wind energy
in migratory stopover areas is essential. MNR should require that the wind power industry
contribute funding (perhaps on the basis of total nameplate capacity) for evaluating migratory
bat stopover areas, as well as other independent research on bats and the impacts of wind
power on bats.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association responded:

While the relative contribution to overall avian mortality from wind turbines is extremely low relative to other sources of avian mortality, the wind energy industry is committed to continuous research and improvement in our understanding of avian interaction with wind turbines; this includes, for example, active involvement in the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative and submission of data to the Wind Energy Bird and Bat Monitoring Database. For information on birds and wind energy, please visit ' Working to Protect Wildlife'.

The wind energy industry is also actively engaged in leading-edge research to understand and mitigate bat mortality at wind farms. To improve our understanding of bat/turbine interactions, the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was formed in 2003 by the wind energy industry and Bat Conservation International. BWEC is dedicated to improving fatality search methods and advancing our understanding of bat fatalities. BWEC is also actively investigating ways to mitigate impacts, such as acoustic deterrents and potential mitigation through changes in operations. For more information visit

"Wind energy is emission-free and does not contribute to climate change – the single biggest threat to avian wildlife.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Dianne Saxe
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