Almost two years ago, the “eco fee fiasco” broke in Ontario over fees charged for end-of-life management of household hazardous and special waste products and containers. With the fiasco dissolved any movement toward reforming the Waste Diversion Act (WDA). The opposition political parties saw blood in the water and pounced, leaving the waste diversion file about as appealing as working at Ornge (the province’s beleaguered air ambulance service).
There were major consultations in 2009 on reform of the WDA, numerous reports by the Auditor General, the Environmental Commissioner, and Statistics Canada, and acknowledgement by all political parties that major changes are needed; despite this, Ontario’s waste diversion programs continue to limp from one crisis to another with overall diversion numbers stagnating. (See Editorial, page 4) This is certainly not to suggest that progress has not been made in certain areas and that our current waste diversion programs have not had important some successes. However, there’s general agreement by stakeholders involved that the current framework isn’t working.
On February 9, 2012 Environment Minister Jim Bradley waded into the ongoing issues with Ontario’s waste diversion programs; at that time there was optimism from stakeholders that the government was preparing to tackle some of the fundamental problems. Minister Bradley’s review was a bold attempt to begin to address underlying WDA problems and should be commended for taking leadership in an area where few wanted to tread.
In retrospect, it does however seem ironic that the review was placed in the hands of Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO), an organization that was the main contributor to the latest round of turmoil. The issues of stability emanating from both the household hazardous waste and the waste electronics stewardship programs result from the inability or unwillingness of WDO to perform its oversight obligations under the WDA. Based on Section 5 of the WDA, WDO has an obligation to:
• develop, implement and operate waste diversion programs for designated wastes in accordance with this Act and monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of those programs; and to
• seek to ensure that waste diversion developed under this Act affect Ontario’s marketplace in a fair manner.
Let’s be clear, the staff at WDO are professionals who don’t deserve personal criticism; instead, the problems are systemic. This organization has been chronically under-resourced and lacks an understanding of what its roles and duties are under the current legislative framework. It also lacks accountability.
The first report delivered to the minister on the MHSW incentive program is most revealing in what is not said. The report refers to the changes of the incentive program as a “transformative change for service providers and municipalities” that caused “significant upheaval for economic participants” and the need for “change management.” It references new risks and burdens that service providers and municipalities faced and mentions potential issues with Stewardship Ontario’s diversion numbers. The question throughout all these observations is: why didn’t WDO exercise any oversight over these changes when numerous warnings were provided before implementation?
The recommendations brought forward by the report are vague, provide no clear path forward, and fail to identify the responsible party to take action. As a result, the blame game ensues. The Ministry of Environment points to WDO, which in turn points to Stewardship Ontario, which points back at the ministry. No wonder service providers are seeking business opportunities elsewhere and companies are stalling investments and new hires! There’s little confidence in the future stability of these programs or in the ability of any of the responsible parties to take action and effect real change.
While service providers struggle, so too do many stewards who have begun to receive steep deficit-recovery bills that they have not anticipated in their business plans. They too seek stability in how these programs operate.
Hope remains that as the evidence of the systematic failures of the WDA mounts, changes will finally come. The government has many tools it can use including regulation under the Environmental Protection Act and moving Waste Diversion Ontario under a Delegated Administrative Authority. If the politics are too risky, the government can also seek consensus on changes through a legislative committee.
The status quo is only be a recipe for continued problems.
Peter Hargreave is Director, Policy & Strategy, for the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) in Brampton, Ontario.
Contact Peter at email@example.com