ONEIA analysis: Ontario names new environment minister
Today, the provincial government appointed John Wilkinson as the new Minister of the Environment. He succeeds John Gerretsen, who was unfairly tagged by the media in the past few months with responsibility for the “eco fee” issue. To his credit, the departing minister had managed to steer an incredible volume of new policies through MOE during his tenure, only a few of which will be remembered in a negative light. And as those of you who have attended recent Environment Industry Days at Queen’s Park, you will remember Minister Gerretsen as a powerful champion for Ontario environment companies, a person who understood the value and the concerns of our sector. He will be missed as he moves to take over the Consumer Affairs portfolio.
So what does the new minister mean for Ontario’s environment industry?
Minister Wilkinson is no stranger to the environment sector. As a past Minister of Research and Innovation, he had ongoing contact with many of the companies in the ONEIA membership and was a regular participant in our annual Environment Industry Day. Personally, he is a very decent and engaged politician, with little of the “dodge and spin” that plagues a portion of his Queen’s Park brethren. His recent position as revenue minister saw him fight a successful but uphill battle to explain the HST to a wary public. Look for him to hit the ground running in his new position thanks to his knowledge of the challenges facing Ontario cleantech companies.
There are also several initiatives already underway – such as the Modernization of Approvals process – that are expected to continue with little or no change. The previous minister and his colleague from Economic Development, Sandra Pupatello, staked considerable capital in committing to make the MOE’s stilted processes more “open for business.” ONEIA sits on the steering committee for this initiative and we expect it to continue at a fast pace, creating a two part approval process to streamline the majority of approvals into a permit-by-rule system with guaranteed turnaround times.
In terms of new challenges, Minister Wilkinson will want to learn from his predecessor’s experience with the toxics registry, eco fees and the like. To varying degrees, these represent instances where portions of the ministry were out of synch with the realities on the ground, which then became the focus of significant criticism. Look for Minister Wilkinson to retain many of his predecessor’s policy advisors but he would be wise to ask them to keep in closer touch with stakeholder groups on all files to ensure that problems surface first in the Minister’s office, not in the media. There will also be a reluctance to break new ground where the government could be seen to be imposing new fees on consumers or delegating such powers to stand-alone agencies that can deliver another “eco-fee-type” surprise. And with an election coming in October 2011, you may see the Minister bringing forward one or two key environmental “wins” throughout the year that the Liberals can reference during the campaign.
If you would like to join the discussion on the new minister and Ontario’s environmental priorities, consider attending the next meeting of the ONEIA advocacy committee on September 16. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.