By Amy Juschka
12/13/2016

A Nanos poll released today shows Ontarians overwhelmingly favour legal recognition of environmental rights — including the right to clean air and water — and want stricter laws to protect the environment.

The public opinion poll, conducted November 14 to 19, found nine of 10 Ontarians believe the provincial government has the responsibility to ensure a healthy environment for all, and 97 per cent support the right to clean air and water.

The poll results come while the Ontario government is under increasing public pressure to act on a number of environmental health issues, including drinking water advisories and air quality concerns in First Nations communities.

“Human life, health and dignity depend on access to clean air, water and land,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell. “Unfortunately, environmental hazards in this province affect some communities more than others. No matter where you live or who your political connections are, you should have the right to a healthy environment. That’s why it’s time for our government to act.”

Ontarians also report they are not opposed to stricter laws to protect the environment. Seven of 10 residents disagreed that environmental laws in Ontario are too strict.

“These results clearly highlight that the environment is important to the values of Ontarians,” said Faisal Moola, director-general of Ontario and Northern Canada at the David Suzuki Foundation. “Many don’t believe our existing laws are strong enough and are looking to government to do more.”

The provincial government is reviewing Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, and will publicly release its plans to improve the bill early next year. In response to the auditor general’s annual report, Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray recently remarked that the province’s environmental assessment process also needs improvement, though he stopped short of making commitments.

Key Nanos public opinion results:

  • More than nine of 10 Ontarians agree or somewhat agree that Ontario has a responsibility to ensure a healthy environment (87 per cent agree and eight per cent somewhat agree).
  • More than 19 of 20 Ontarians support (96 per cent) or somewhat support (one per cent) the right to clean water. More than 19 of 20 Ontarians support (93 per cent) or somewhat support (four per cent) the right to clean air.
  • Almost seven of 10 Ontarians agree (40 per cent) or somewhat agree (27 per cent) that environmental rights should have the same status as human rights.
  • One in four Ontarians believe the provincial government has done a poor (20 per cent) or very poor (seven per cent) job of protecting the environment, while four out of 10 (41 per cent) believe Ontario has done an average job.
  • When asked whether environmental laws in Ontario are too strict, seven of 10 residents disagreed (57 per cent) or somewhat disagreed (12 per cent).

The poll surveyed 500 Ontarians by phone, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

A call for political leadership

During the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights review period, the Blue Dot movement mobilized nearly 20,000 people to comment on recommended improvements, including adding environmental rights to the bill.

“These remarkable polling results demonstrate strong public support for more effective environmental rights in Ontario,” said Canadian Environmental Law Association lawyer Richard Lindgren. “This poll is a clarion call for long overdue reform of the province’s environmental laws, including the Environmental Bill of Rights, enacted over two decades ago.”

Nationally, the Blue Dot movement is working toward introduction of a federal environmental bill of rights.

Around the world, more than 110 countries recognize the right to a healthy environment. But not Canada. The Blue Dot movement hopes to change this. The campaign’s ultimate goal is recognition of the right to a healthy environment in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Photo by Pancheks via Flicr.

Leave a Reply