Ontario’s Pay-to-Kill Policy Threatens Species and Habitat Protection

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You learn to read between the lines after working for years on political issues in Ontario.

For example, when the government makes an announcement late Friday, it’s a clear signal that it hopes to avoid timely scrutiny and negative media coverage. And when the Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks claims it is “streamlining authorizations”, it is usually to allow industry and development to move faster or faster, to the detriment of that. which is seen as an obstacle.

A good example: the government’s announcement at the end of the afternoon on September 17 about the establishment a new “Species Conservation Action Agency” under the Endangered Species Act. While this looks promising, the agency is the first step in “streamlining authorizations” for activities that negatively affect species at risk.

This is all part of the implementation of the new “Endangered Species Conservation Fund,” another sounding euphemism for what conservation advocates have aptly dubbed “Pay to kill”. With the fund, those who propose harmful activities will be able to pay up front rather than taking action to more than compensate for the damage caused, as is currently required.

The Ontario ESA was designed with flexibility in mind. It allows harmful activities to continue, but only with adequate safeguards in place. Operators must take steps to ensure that the species will be doing better than before the damage occurred. If the habitat is damaged or destroyed, it must be restored or replaced.

The Comprehensive Benefit Standard was designed to facilitate species recovery, not just to mitigate the blows of habitat loss and degradation, the primary driver of species decline. But the fund guts out the norm, allowing operators to make a payment and then leave, without any additional liability.

With this new model, there will no longer be a direct link between the damage inflicted on a particular species and the remedy provided by the fund. Payments should be pooled and used for the benefit of any species in the fund, not necessarily the one that has been harmed. Depending on political priorities or the availability or convenience of compensation activities, populations of some species, or parts of their range, may be sacrificed while others benefit.

In addition, the activities supported by the fund should only be “reasonably likely” to benefit the affected cash. In other words, it provides certainty for promoters, but not for the plants and animals that ESA is supposed to protect. Nor for the affected communities.

There is no doubt that the fund will shorten approval times and increase certainty for developers, as the government claims. It will be cheaper and faster to obtain authorization for harmful activities. But it creates a perverse incentive for destruction.

In the midst of a man-made extinction crisis, it is tragic to see the government pursue such a backward policy. Biodiversity is declining at an accelerating rate “unprecedented in the history of mankindAnd yet in Ontario there does not appear to be an appetite for the transformative change needed to stem the loss.

You don’t have to read between the lines to understand that human well-being is inextricably linked with the health of the planet. This fact is inescapable. The loss of biodiversity is classified as a the top five risks for economies over the next decade, because of nature’s invaluable blessings. However, time and time again, we have seen the government choose to weaken environmental laws and policies.

Is it too much to ask the government to maintain and strengthen the protection of our most endangered plants and animals rather than looking after its business friends?

Rachel Plotkin is Boreal Project Manager at the David Suzuki Foundation. Anne Bell is Director of Conservation and Education at Ontario Nature.


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