By Peter Wood

On June 15, 2010, a young MP representing the riding of Papineau, Quebec, took the floor of the House of Commons to make an impassioned speech in support of a proposed federal environmental bill of rights (Bill C-469, introduced by MP Linda Duncan, full text here).

On that day, Papineau MP Justin Trudeau proclaimed, “If we are defined by our land, we are so, too, defined by the principles and the values that we set forth in our core documents, like the Constitution or our Bill of Rights. The idea that 100 years ago or 500 years ago one would have to enshrine the right to fresh air or clean water would have seemed silly. Obviously everyone has a right to that, there was no need for it. It would be like trying to legislate that people have to obey the law of gravity.”

He went on to say that environmental rights bring a number of positive consequences, including “stronger laws, better implementation, a more engaged public, more active courts and an increased accountability.” We couldn’t agree more.


Justin Trudeau on Bill C-469: “The Liberal Party is pleased to see this bill come forward so we can discuss it and look at the best ways to implement this, discuss it in committee and ensure that Canada starts founding all of its laws and principles on a healthy respect for a strong environment.”


He concluded by saying that implementing this bill would ensure that Canada starts founding all of its laws and principles on a healthy respect for a strong environment. Now, as prime minister, he has the unique chance to make that happen.

Trudeau has a golden opportunity to make history and recognize the right to a healthy environment in federal law for the first time, as recommended in a review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, presented in June 2017 by the all-party Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. This would allow Canada to join the 150 countries worldwide that have already established this right in law, consistent with the Global Pact on the Environment.

In a response to the review, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna agreed that changes were needed to modernize and improve the act and said she would report back on progress made by June 2018, but made no firm commitments on what that would include.

When Trudeau first offered his support for environmental rights in 2010, it was a relatively unknown concept. Since then, more than 100,000 people have stepped up to help make environmental rights a reality in Canada as part of the Blue Dot campaign. As a result, more than 163 municipalities representing almost half of Canada’s population have signed declarations supporting their citizens’ right to a healthy environment. Independent polling shows that 90 per cent of Canadians support the right to a healthy environment.

Now, as prime minister, Justin Trudeau has the opportunity to put his words into action, backed by this large and growing popular support. The legislative agenda for 2018 is going to be a busy one, but updating the Environmental Protection Act to include the right to a healthy environment presents a relatively quick win that would improve the lives of all Canadians.


Photo: Sean Kilpatrick, AP