Harris tables Accountability for Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Act

April 3, 2014

QUEEN’S PARK – Today, PC Environment Critic and Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris tabled the Accountability for Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Act at Queen’s Park in an important first step toward establishing tough conflict-of-interest rules that will prevent future investment scandals similar to the one that involved Clean Tech Capital Inc. earlier this year.

“Right now, there are no conflict-of-interest rules that prevent Ontario’s Environment Commissioner from investing in companies benefiting from government programs that are overseen by his office,” Harris said. “So to maintain public trust, no matter who is serving as commissioner, tough conflict-of-interest rules must be put into place. We need to have a bright line in legislation pointing out what type of business activities the Environment Commissioner can and cannot be engaged in.”

The introduction of Harris’s private member’s bill follows a conflict-of-interest scandal beginning in January that involved Ontario’s Environment Commissioner, as well as current and former executives of the province’s recycling agencies, Stewardship Ontario and Ontario Tire Stewardship. The Toronto Star reported that the Environment Commissioner had taken a position on the board of Clean Tech Capital Inc. and had invested $10,000 into this start-up company even though its stated investment focus was on Ontario’s Blue Box and tire-tax programs – both of which are overseen by the Environment Commissioner.

In response to the media attention, the Environment Commissioner stepped down from the board and divested his holdings in the company on Feb. 7, 2014. “The Environment Commissioner did the right thing earlier this year by taking a step back from his investment. But that doesn’t mean we no longer need to make a legislative change,” Harris said. “Through this incident, we uncovered that the Commissioner is not subject to conflict-of-interest rules. That’s a problem. This is a legal gap that needs to be filled. So I hope the Liberals and the NDP will agree and will support this important bill.”

If passed, Harris’s private member’s bill would amend the Environmental Bill of Rights by adding a section on conflict-of-interest rules that will apply to the environment commissioner.