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Legal Notes: Environment ministry silence on excess soil regulatory ‘pause’ worries stakeholders

John Bleasby
Legal Notes: Environment ministry silence on excess soil regulatory ‘pause’ worries stakeholders

It’s been months since the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks announced a “pause” in the continued implementation of Phase Two of the province’s Excess Soil Regulations.  It also remains silent regarding any future stakeholder engagement, education and consultation sessions. The silence has many in the construction industry concerned.

Ontario’s soil regulations were originally proposed by the previous Liberal government. These were put on hold due to the 2018 provincial election that the Liberals subsequently lost. The new Conservative government picked up the file and began a phased implementation in 2019.

At the time, Ontario’s soil regulations were greeted positively by the soil management industry and others.  

“It shines as a rare example of industry, government and environmental stewards agreeing upon a regulatory framework that is the envy of many jurisdictions around the world,” Jeff Goldman, director of SoilFLO Inc. told the Daily Commercial News (DCN) last spring.

However, late last year, rumours concerning a possible regulatory “pause” had begun to circulate.

The ministry confirmed the pause of Phase Two in a March 14 ERO. It also described what actions would be taken in terms of stakeholder engagement during 2022, after which the pause would be lifted on Jan. 1, 2023.

It was never clear to the construction industry why Phase Two needed to be paused when it was already in effect. The ministry ERO simply claimed pausing Phase Two would give certain municipalities and contractors more time to catch up with key registry portions required under the province’s soil regulations.

“During the pause period that is proposed, the ministry would have an opportunity to consult on refinements to the provisions of the Excess Soil Regulation that are proposed to be paused, if necessary, to ensure they are clear, effective, practical and focussed to circumstances most necessary to support sustainable soil management across the province.”

Industry stakeholders reacted angrily.

In his April 5 letter to the Land Use Policy Section, Environmental Policy Branch of the Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks, Andy Manahan, executive director of the Toronto and Area Road Builders Association, wrote, “This proposal was made without any consultation with those who have been at the ministry’s advisory table for six years.”

The ministry began by hosting online engagement sessions this past spring. These included several dozen representatives of industry, various levels of government, conservation authorities, environmental groups and soil experts.

According to sources, numerous concerns were expressed during the webinar surrounding issues related to the pause.

In response, a Q&A bulletin provided by the ministry after the sessions promised, “a plan to address key education and outreach during the pause. This includes planning for government and industry-led guidance, tools and resources and educational sessions in 2022 and beyond.”

Ministry staff assured there would be more consultation in the future.

“We will send you email notifications with any updates related to this consultation.”

Sources have told the DCN that the ministry has been silent for months.

To learn more, the DCN asked several ministry staff last week what, if any, government-led consultations and education consultations with various stakeholders had taken place since the spring, and if the “pause” will be lifted as promised at the end of this year, or extended beyond.

Lindsay Davidson, speaking on behalf of Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, did not answer those questions directly. Instead, he simply confirmed the last ministry consultations “with municipalities, industry and other stakeholders, including First Nation communities” concerning the pause took place from March 11 to April 10, 2022.

In the absence of promised ministry outreach, it appears the only educational and consultation opportunities have been webinars hosted and articles published by the legal community providing information about the impact of the pause on industry operations.  

Ontario excess soil regulations herald a necessary industry modernization.  

Worrying stakeholders is the spectre of ministry statements concerning “proposed amendments” to the regulations and the lack of clarity and transparency.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Legal Notes column ideas to

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