Editorial Board 2000-2001
A tougher shade of green?
A tougher shade of green?
We all knew heads would roll in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy.
While the world was lulled into thinking modern technology should have easily rendered Walkerton a non-event, the incidence of death and sickness proved the system was vulnerable. For anyone who drinks water, the event illustrated just how fallible our system of checks and balances can be, as well as how destructive Mother Nature can be when left unattended.
So now, after all the dust has settled and all the finger-pointing and blame-laying has given way to an attempt at understanding, the provincial Environment Ministry has finally come up with a response. A new bill introduced by the provincial Tories this past Tuesday, aims to put polluters in the financial dumpster, while placing Ontario at the head of the environment-friendly pack.
Proposed increases to maximum fines would see major corporate offences jump from $1 million to $6 million per day, while individual offences would skyrocket from $100,000 to $4 million per day. Jail terms would also increase under the new proposal. It is safe to say that if the government was not playing hard ball with environmental offenders, it has now made the jump to the major leagues of crime and punishment.
With its new penalty structure, highlighted by strict regulations on drinking water standards, the new legislation comes across the table with an obvious aim to quell any concerns Walkerton might recur.
So, if the bill should pass, is all this newly created severity enough to put fears to rest? The fact remains that the bill is both reactionary in its timing and attempt to raise the bar on polluters. Moreover, any such legislation is only as good as the government's ability to police it. The Tories have banded together a crack team of inspectors raring to get hot on the tracks of polluters. But with overall cuts to the entire Ministry, the new addition may not be as potent as it seems on the surface. The bill's token nature and stiffening of only penalties, not laws, can mean the public has been duped into thinking something is actually being done.
How, then, does a province still recovering from a fatal environmental disaster receive such a bill?
First, it must be granted the move to step up penalties against environmental offenders is a laudable one. If this bill passes, Ontario will be able to say with pride the sanctions it imposes against polluters are the strictest in Canada.
However, legislation is only as good as the means by which it is enforced. If the Tories view their new bill as a savvy public relations move only and have no serious intention of carrying out diligent investigations to bring offenders to light, then the Ministry's new bill will prove less than worthless.