Comment on Ontario Code of Practice for Class EA Assessments

In response to the Notice highlighted elsewhere on our website (here), the Greenspace Alliance sent in the following comment:

October 13, 2007

To: Ariane Heisey, Special Projects Advisor,
Ministry of the Environment, Project Coordination Section
2 St Clair Avenue West
Floor 14, Toronto Ontario M4V 1L5

Re: The Code of Practice: Preparing, Reviewing and Using Class Environmental Assessments in Ontario

Dear Ms. Heisey:

The Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital wishes to comment on the referenced proposed Code of Practice. We have much experience with the City of Ottawa’s use of Class Environmental Assessments for municipal projects and welcome this clarification of the Ministry’s expectations.

As a general comment, we find the language of this Code often confusing. The words “Class Environmental Assessment” are used to refer to a document that sets out how EAs of a certain type of projects are to be conducted. This is contrary to the plain use of the word “assessment” which refers to the act of assessing or the result of an assessment. It would be better to refer to “Guide” or “Manual” for making Class EAs. The confusion is compounded by, sometimes in the same paragraph, discussing the EA of a project.

Page 3 says that the Code is divided in two Parts but the Table of Contents does not indicate what belongs to Part A and what to Part B. This becomes clear only when seeing page 20 (before section 4) and page 62 (before section 6) respectively.

Page 3 states that Part A does not apply to currently approved [guides to] class environmental assessments. The current Municipal Class EA manual was approved in 2000 and has not yet been republished following the 2005 Review. It is not clear to us when Part A will begin to apply to this class of EAs.

We are disturbed by the statement on page 6 that the class EA process “is not a consensus building exercise.” It would appear to us that consensus ought to be an objective of an assessment.

We would like to see a specific prohibition of piece-mealing projects.

We are extremely disturbed by the proposal, on page 48, that, if the Minister has not made a decision on a Part II Order request within 60 days, the proponent is entitled to proceed with the project. (The comment that he does so at his own risk because a Part II Order could still be made appears to us as an empty threat. Surely court action would follow if the proponent proceeds and the Minister issues an Order later.) A proponent should not be allowed to proceed until the Minister has made a Decision. However, there should be a timeline for such a decision, subject to ‘escape clauses’ when additional information is required, etc. (We note that, on page 77, this ‘approval by default’ is not repeated.)

Page 63 notes that a Class EA is a “self-assessment” process. We are assuming that this refers to what is more commonly called “proponent-driven.”

We note, on page 70, that, early in the planning process, the proponent should contact government review agencies to determine which agencies have an interest in the project. We applaud this but note that this is not necessarily current practice. Specifically, in our experience we have found the Ministry’s EAA Branch to be stand-offish on the basis that the process is proponent-driven and that the proponent therefore proceeds at his own risk, should there later be a Part II Order request and the Branch agrees that an error was made. Surely this is not conducive to a rational and efficient process. We note that, in Appendix D, under Ministry of the Environment, the Branch is not listed as having an interest in any project! We believe that the Branch should give firm and binding guidance on the methodology used by a proponent so that he does not go astray and wastes valuable resources – his own and those of interested persons.

We believe that a major weakness of the current practice (which is not corrected in this proposed Code) is that a proponent may post a Notice of Completion without having sign-off from the provincial agencies in hand. This leaves the public in the dark on the agencies’ position. There should be “draft” sign-off, based on the submitted information. Agencies could change their position in light of new information brought forward by comments after the posting of the Notice of Completion.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment.

Carol Gudz, Interim Chair

Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital