Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed Species at Risk Conservation Fund.
While the Fund has an appealing name, I share the concerns outlined by Ontario Nature and I do not support the Fund as proposed.
The criticisms that Ontario Nature has expressed reflect the problems arising from what has been a weakening of the Endangered Species Act in recent years, including sweeping regulatory exemptions for proponents of harmful activities in 2013. The Environmental Commissioner's finding in her 2017 report that total ESA authorizations for harmful activities "drastically increased" after the introduction of the 2013 exemptions is disturbing.
I support Ontario Nature's view that the Fund is premised on the destruction of species at risk habitats, as proponents of damaging activities will have clearance to proceed as soon as they pay into the Fund.
This government's emphasis on deregulation, as reflected most recently in the weakening of the mandate and responsibility of conservation authorities, has caused me to very wary of its professed commitment to the protection of natural resources.
As a result, I seriously question the extent to which the government is committed to protecting endangered species when it again emphasizes its intent to "shorten timelines, reduce burdens and provide cost certainty" for proponents of harmful activities.
I definitely am not inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt in light of its disregard of the massive outcry about its ill-advised overhaul of conservation authorities.
Ontario Nature makes a strong point in expressing alarm about the loss of the overall benefit standard in the Fund. The overall benefit required proponents to undertake actions that would more than compensate for the harm done, but payment into the Fund is proposed as an alternative to the provision of overall benefit. The government appears to have dismissed the ECO's finding in 2017 that "few activities now are proceeding under the overall benefit approach - the vast majority of activities are proceeding under exemptions that only ask proponents to minimize harm."
I agree with Ontario Nature's red flag that once proponents have paid into the Fund, there isn't any direct link between the damage to a species or the habitat and the remedy provided through the Fund. The possibility of significant delays in any corrective action and a lack of clarity about who is legally responsible if the Fund doesn't produce the intended result are other problems as well.
There is also a lack of clarity in two critical areas: whether the government will ensure long-term financial support for the Fund and whether the government will publicly disclose the specific or cumulative impacts of the harmful activities undertaken by proponents.
The government should address both of these concerns with positive moves to reassure the public. I would welcome steps to ensure that fees charged to proponents of harmful activities are high enough to be a deterrent. and to provide complete information on the extent of damage caused by the authorized activities.
I would prefer that the government reconsider the proposed Fund. If, however, it proceeds with the Fund, it should adopt the constructive suggestions that Ontario Nature has made to correct serious flaws and risks in the proposal to better protect species at risk.
Submitted December 14, 2020 4:26 PM