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Northern Ontario 'has a lot to lose,' if environmental commissioner scrapped, says scientist

Dec 03, 2018 08:21AM ● By Editor
Supporters of the province's environmental commissioner's office need to speak up, said Constance O'Connor, an associate scientist with Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, based in Thunder Bay, Ont. Photo: Constance O'Connor

By Amy Hadley of CBC News - November 30, 2018 

A scientist in Thunder Bay, Ont., says she's worried that the loss of the province's environmental commissioner's office will be a big loss for northern Ontario, and will weaken protection of the region's important natural resources. 

"I was really dismayed to learn that the government was planning to eliminate the environmental commissioners' office," said Constance O'Connor, who works for Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, referring to the announcement made in mid-November as part of cost-cutting measures in the provincial government's fall economic statement. 

"I think we're losing an office that paid attention to northern Ontario issues and brought attention to northern Ontario issues, especially when often these issues are a bit neglected and pushed to the back burner."

While northern Ontario may sometimes be a bit "out of sight, out of mind" at Queen's Park, the office "has always been really good at not neglecting" the region, she added. 

In recent years, O'Connor said the environmental commissioner drew attention to the importance of environmental assessments related to the Ring of Fire mining development, as well as water quality in Indigenous communities. In her most recent report, commissioner Diane Saxe also highlighted the lack of source water protection in the far north, O'Connor pointed out.

Climate change is disproportionately affecting northern Ontario ... so I think we have a lot to lose.- Constance O'Connor

O'Connor said she believes the office offers good value for the money for the entire province.  

"It's actually, it's not an expensive office to run, it costs about 30 cents per-person per-year, but with that really small amount of money we get independent oversight of what's happening in the environment."

The rich environmental resources present in northern Ontario make that oversight all the more important, she said, because of the need to protect them from the potential harms of things like industrial projects and climate change.

"Climate change is disproportionately affecting northern Ontario," she said. "I think we have a lot to lose."  

O'Connor said she's urging people who support the commissioner's office to contact their MPPs. 

"I think it's important to make it clear that you do care. And if enough people care, the government might actually listen." 

To read the original story, hear an audio interview and see related stories, follow this link to the CBC News website.

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