Oral Questions – Air Quality

October 22, 2014

Mr.Ernie Hardeman: My question is to the Minister of the Environment. Minister, for months, we’ve been trying to get air quality data for the Beachville area from your ministry. People who live there want to know the test results since the last public report was issued in 2003, but all your ministry has given us is six months of data. Now we’re being told that we need to file an FOI request, which will cost $600, in order to get the information.

Minister, are you honestly telling me that the people of Beachville need to pay your government $600 to find out if the air they are breathing is safe?

Hon. Glen R. Murray: I think the member for Oxford and I have been working very closely on this file. I’m glad he has reintroduced the subject today.

I was under the impression that the ministry was co-operating fully with the member opposite and the community. I am disappointed to hear that there are some outstanding concerns, but I will certainly take them to heart as I have before. I will look into them, and I promise him an answer as promptly as possible—within a week, I hope.

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. I appreciate that, and I appreciate that your ministry may not have been as forthcoming with information as they might have been.

The problem is, I did receive a letter with your signature on it, and this is where this question comes from. Your government claims to be open and transparent, but the people are being refused information about the quality of the air they’re breathing because that whole span of time is missing.

It isn’t classified business information, which the letter suggested, and it’s not protected.

The Operations Manual for Air Quality Monitoring in Ontario, produced by your ministry in March 2008, says very clearly that monitoring data as well as quarterly and annual reports are to be made publicly available.

All the people of Beachville want is to know that the air that they have been breathing is safe. They’ve started the FOI process. Minister, will you do the right thing and refund the FOI fees and release the air quality monitoring data from 2003 forward?

Hon. Glen R. Murray: One of the matters that does concern me is that we have the application of regulation 419, whether you’re in Sarnia, where we have concerns, or in Oxford.

This is very top of mind to me. I’m working very closely with the deputy. The Premier has asked us to up our game, both in being more transparent and more responsive. I will be the first to say that while I think there are great efforts being made by the ministry, they are not at the standard of responsiveness that we want.

I would caution the member opposite. You are from a party, my dear friend, which suggested we could do with 100,000 less public servants. I would argue that the Ministry of the Environment is not an overly funded ministry, and resources are scarce. I will take that to be a spend question, not a cut question, and would ask, as we move forward in budget deliberations, that you have some empathy for my ministry, sir.