Policy and Political Action

Policy & Political Action

Bill 66: The Great Lakes Protection Act

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses (RN), nurse practitioners (NP) and nursing students in all settings and roles across Ontario.

RNAO welcomes the introduction of Bill 66, which in many respects is an improvement on its predecessor, Bill 6 (2013). It represents an opportunity for Ontario to take a leading role in Great Lakes protection. We thank the Standing Committee on General Government for this opportunity to offer recommendations to strengthen environmental protection under the Bill.

For RNAO, supporting a clean and sustainable environment is a matter of protecting health. Nurses have a holistic approach to health: they believe that prevention is just as important as treatment and cure. And we know that what is in the environment ultimately affects human health. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin covers a huge swath of Ontario, and its waters are ultimately the repository of much of society’s waste, and that works its way back into the water supply and food chain. It is far better to stop that waste from getting into the environment and the fresh water than it is to attempt to filter it out when we come to consume it. Bill 66 is a major opportunity for Ontario to begin meeting its obligations to reduce peoples’ exposure to pollutants.

For years, RNAO has focused on reducing environmental, occupational and product exposures to toxics and this Bill presents an important window to protect against toxics. RNAO was mobilized to act because of Ontario's poor record on toxics. The province ranks very high in terms of total releases, relative to its American and Canadian counterparts. There have been successes. RNAO was a proud member of a coalition of health and environment groups that sought and received gold-standard protection against cosmetic uses of pesticides in Ontario. The government is to be applauded for this significant step forward.
The Toxics Reduction Act(TRA) was another important achievement, but more action is needed in the following areas:

  • bringing into force of penalties and enforcement sections,
  • a mechanism to deal with unlisted substances of concern,
  • proclamation of section 50 (1)(o.1) regulating the manufacture, sale or distribution of a toxic substance, substance of concern or other prescribed substance.
  • proclamation of section 50 (1)(o.2) requiring manufacturers, vendors and distributors of the above substances to notify the public about those products.

Furthermore, the TRA was hamstrung by a failure to include:

  • targets
  • mandatory substitution
  • an institute that would consolidate information on best practices on toxics reduction

There has been progress on toxics, within and without the TRA. For example, the reporting of toxic substances is under way, and many facilities are implementing plans to reduce use or release of toxics. The Living List process of updating the list of substances covered under the TRA has been finalized and will soon be implemented on-line. Outside of the TRA, there have been a number of measures to reduce toxic releases: the program to reduce the releases of bee-killing neonicotinoids; the closure of coal-fired power plants; and other steps to reduce greenhouse gases, which bring the co-benefits of cleaner air. Nevertheless, given that Ontario has started from a high base of toxics releases and has had mixed progress in recent years, it is incumbent on the government to seize any appropriate opportunity to reduce toxics release. Bill 66 is well suited to that end because it allows regulation of pollutants and because it covers a very large, and the most populous, part of Ontario – the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin.

RNAO Recommendations on Bill 66

A. Remove exemptions.
The broad discretion given to Cabinet to impose exemptions under paragraph 38(1)(l) is not necessary, and would risk undermining the credibility of the bill.

RNAO Recommendation 1. We strongly urge that any provisions enabling discretionary exemptions from the GLPA be deleted, including the removal of paragraph 38(1)(l).

B. Toxics, Targets and Planning.
We need to get toxics out of the environment. The Bill itself points out the urgency for action: three of Ontario's four Great Lakes are in decline. As noted above, we applaud enhancements appearing in Bill 66, including: the addition of pollution reduction and elimination in the purpose; monitoring and surveillance of pollutants and ecological conditions; and allowing for policy tools that would require pollution reduction. Missing are mandatory targets with achievable, yet meaningful timelines and mandatory plans. Without targets and plans, it is very difficult to achieve progress. Without substantial targets, progress will be limited. It is important to have aggressive timelines.

RNAO Recommendation 2. Amend Part IV (Targets) by:

a) Amending section 9(1) from:
"To achieve one or more purposes of this Act, the Minister may, after consulting with the other Great Lakes ministers, establish qualitative or quantitative targets relating to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin."
to
"To achieve one or more purposes of this Act, the Minister shall, after consulting with the other Great Lakes ministers, establish qualitative or quantitative targets relating to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.”

b) Amending section 9(5) from
“With respect to a target the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change or the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry has established under subsection (1) or (3), he or she may, after consulting with the other Great Lakes ministers, prepare a plan setting out the actions that may be taken to achieve the target.”
to
“With respect to a target the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change or the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry has established under subsection (1) or (3), he or she shall, after consulting with the other Great Lakes ministers, prepare a plan setting out the actions that may be taken to achieve the target.”

c) amending the timeline for a target on reduction of algal blooms in paragraph 9(2) from two years to one year.

d) adding a paragraph,
"Within one year after this section comes into force, the Minister shall establish at least one target under subsection (1) to assist in the reduction or elimination of harmful pollutants in all or part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin."

RNAO further urges the government to establish several ambitious targets.

C. Principles.
The principles of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) include the precautionary principle, pollution prevention, virtual elimination of persistent and bioaccumulative toxic substances, and the “polluter pays” principle. The precautionary principle is included in Bill 66, but all the CEPA principles are worthy of inclusion in any piece of environmental legislation, including this one. We ask you to consider including the CEPA principles in the Bill as well.

Recommendation 3. Reference the principles of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in the Bill.

In summary, RNAO strongly welcomes Bill 66 as an important piece of legislation that has improved in many respects from its predecessors, but we urge the Committee to amend the Bill to remove the provision allowing for discretionary exemptions of named persons from provisions of the Act; to make targets and planning mandatory and substantial, and to reference the principles of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

See the full submission with references below.

Resource Type: 
Submission