Those are among the damning conclusions of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s annual report for 2007-08.

Gord Miller was heavily critical of the way the province is looking after its increasingly stressed water resources.

The report examined new regulations for financing municipal water systems, a fee for commercial water uses – which it labelled “insufficient” – and a water-taking application by a large water bottler that provoked a huge outcry from residents.

“As Ontario’s water resources come under increasing stress, our policies still seriously undervalue water and don’t reflect its critical importance to the ecosystem, the economy and our quality of life,” Mr Miller said, at the launch of his report.

He added: “The Ontario public needs and deserves to be confident that our environmental protection systems are actually doing the job, but there are clearly areas of weakness.”

The report also called for better public consultation on many important environmental issues, including large-scale water use, but also quarries, landfills and energy projects.

“It is essential for the public to participate fully in decisions that have such profound implications for our environment and our economy,” Mr Miller said.

The province’s urban air quality monitoring and reporting also came under fire in the report.

Mr Miller said residents are not getting the “true story” about air quality at street level because current monitoring sites are not located near major sources of air pollution, such as traffic.”

Climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, biodiversity protection and reforms to brownfield legislation also came under scrutiny in this year’s report.

Mr Miller praised the increased resources given to the Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources following a special report he published last year.

But he added: “While short term progress has been made, we still have a long way to go in rebuilding the capacities of these Ministries if they are to properly deliver the level of service Ontarians need and deserve.”

The report can be found here.

Kate Martin

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