Volume 94, Issue 24

Thursday, October 12, 2000


BOG candidates face USC grilling

Braun says USC vision needs focus

Tim Hortons still on strike

Tories want tougher laws on polluters

Petrykowski gunning for BOG

Uukkvi looks to the future

Planet Me

Tories want tougher laws on polluters

By Mike Murphy
Gazette Staff

Ontario's environment minister introduced a bill this week that will toughen up environmental crime penalties, but critics said they are still skeptical of the government's commitment to keeping the province green.

"The penalties we introduced [Tuesday] and are the toughest in Canada," said Lynne Hamilton, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment.

The new bill will increase maximum fines and jail terms for those convicted of violations against Ontario's environmental laws, Hamilton said. If the bill is approved, the highest fine for corporations breaking the law would rise from $1 million to $6 million per day for a first offence, she said.

She added municipalities that fail to treat, test and sample drinking water adequately, would be subject to the stiff, new penalties. The bill will give Ontario the highest drinking water standards in Canada, she added.

While Environment Minister Dan Newman praised the bill, opposition members greeted it with skepticism.

"The record of this government has been to play footsy with polluters," said Jim Bradley, Member of Provincial Parliament for St. Catharines and the Liberal party's environment critic.

Bradley, who served as Minister of the Environment from 1985 to 1990, said he supports harsh penalties for environmental crimes but doubts the Tories will enforce the laws they plan to enact.

"The bill is no help if the government is not going to enforce it," he stated, adding the current government has portrayed itself from the beginning as business-friendly and has been reluctant to prosecute corporations that break environmental laws.

Hamilton, said the Ministry will create a 65-member task force that will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the bill.

"We just brought in our new S.W.A.T team," she said, explaining the enforcement group would be highly mobile and specifically target repeat and deliberate offenders. "Midnight dumpers" who illegally dispose of hazardous wastes are a good example of what the S.W.A.T team would target, she said.

But Bradley dismissed the S.W.A.T team as a mere token gesture and said the 65 new employees will hardly make up for 900 Environment Ministry workers who have been laid off during the Tories' time in office.

"One of the lessons of Walkerton is that you increase the risk significantly when you take away staff and resources," Bradley said.

Greenpeace communication director, Cim Nunn, said he supported harsher penalties but also had his reservations. "This is closing the barn door after all the horses are gone," Nunn said.

"They've had five years of cutbacks to the ministries responsible for clean water and air," he added. "Increasing the penalties after the environment has been damaged is missing the point."

Bradley dismissed the bill as a public relations ploy and a knee-jerk reaction to this summer's Walkerton E. coli outbreak. "Had six people not died and several hundreds and possibly thousands of people become ill, we would not see the government moving on environment issues at all until the end of its term, when they could use them as a kind of gift to win an election," he said.

Hamilton defended the government's move, saying it was not reactionary. "This was a part of our 1999 platform, so this is just a case of promise made, promise kept."

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Copyright The Gazette 2000