By Brenda Dyack, CFFO Director of Research & Policy
The concept of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a convenient short form for considering the infinite number of combinations of social, environmental and economic choices we might make in seeking to achieve our greatest wellbeing. We are forced to choose a TBL balance because we can’t have all we want. We face scarcity, so unless we are continually innovating our way out of scarcity, there is no escaping the reality of hard tradeoffs.
When we vote for change in government, we are voting for changes to our publicly shared TBL outcomes. Here in Ontario, we voted to shift the balance to economic outcomes. With the financial bottom line high on the agenda, this government has been swift to deliver on its promises to attract business activity, stimulate job creation and increase housing supply.
Municipalities will have more flexibility on where housing and business development will expand, and development should speed up as the government’s new “A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2019” rolls out.
On the social front, there are some concerns about proposals for healthcare and education change given that a healthy, well-educated population is the foundation of the creative innovations we need to compete globally.
On the environment front, the government is promising that A Place to Grow will continue to ensure the protection of our agricultural and natural areas and support climate change mitigation and adaptation as Ontario moves towards the goal of environmentally sustainable communities.
However, it is not clear how farmland will be protected with this growth plan, which is a key concern for CFFO. There seems to be no reference to OMAFRA’s Agricultural Impact Assessment (AIA) proposal of 2018. The AIA was meant to control development including settlement area boundary expansions, infrastructure projects and mineral aggregate extraction operations within prime agricultural areas.
Moreover, several proposals clearly reduce existing environmental protections as the government aims to modernize old legislation.
First, proposals to modernize the Environmental Assessment Act are aimed at changing the Act’s current requirements for social, economic, cultural, health and environmental analysis and will shift to focusing only on projects that pose actual, real risks. However, how we can know which projects “pose actual, real risks” unless an assessment is actually done?
Second, two proposals to change how Conservation Authorities (CA) operate are intended to help them focus and deliver on protecting people and property and to improve governance. Will CA involvement in environmental goals continue?
Adjusting the TBL balance is inevitable as priorities change. As people become more educated and as societies evolve, people gain a better understanding of both the short-run and long-run costs and benefits of our individual and voting choices. We know that short-run economic gains could come at an environmental cost in the long-run. The Duty of Care for the environment rests with governments. Therefore, our ultimate “Bottom Line” is that we have no choice but to trust that our current leaders will balance their economic growth mandate with their long-run responsibility for environmental stewardship.