By Peter Wood

Today, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna released a response to recommendations made by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Canada’s primary law on pollution and toxics. The response indicates that, although the government agrees with the intent of many of the legislative reforms proposed, it will not amend the act before the next election. The response states that the government intends to implement certain non-legislative measures, such as developing a policy on vulnerable populations.

On the specific recommendation to recognize Canadians’ legal right to a healthy environment, the minister commits to undertake further engagement on this issue during the next two years, but does not specify what that will entail.

The decision to delay action on the recommendations is disappointing and represents a missed opportunity to improve the lives of Canadians and save billions of dollars annually in health care costs. It is also a missed opportunity to modernize Canada’s environmental laws and join the more than 150 countries that recognize environmental rights.

The silver lining is that this review process has brought to light the broad public support that exists for environmental rights. In the past year we have heard from more than 20,000 supporters who are calling on government to implement the recommendation to recognize the right to a healthy environment. A recent independent poll reflects this support, showing that 92 per cent are in favour of recognizing environmental rights. Recently, a related House of Commons e-petition attracted more than 10,000 signatures in just a few weeks. Several members of Parliament have come forward to show their support, as well as over 500 scientists and a group of Canada’s leading environmental law professors. A coalition of more than 80 women’s health and human rights groups from Quebec have rallied behind this cause. Earlier this year, both the NDP and the Liberal Party of Canada adopted resolutions in support of a federal environmental bill of rights, making this official policy for both parties.

We will continue working with our dedicated volunteers to ensure that government fulfils its commitment to engage the public on this issue. In the coming year, the Blue Dot campaign will also draw upon our national network of supporters to secure commitments from all politicians and their associated parties in support of environmental rights as we head toward the October 2019 federal election.


Photo credit: Ottawa Tulips Festival by Michel Rathwell is licensed under CC BY 2.0