Although Canada has a reputation as a generally progressive and green nation, many of the statutes we count on to defend nature, combat climate change and fight for a healthy environment have not kept pace with the times and are ill-equipped to deal with modern threats, like climate change.
That’s why when the Liberals swept into power in 2015 promising to restore public trust in environmental decision-making, engage in nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous communities, and take action on climate change by reviewing Canada’s key environmental laws, we jumped at the opportunity to take part in the process.
Over the course of two years, we worked with a coalition of partners and met with lawmakers on Parliament Hill, urging them to ‘get it right’ and enact strong laws that will protect Canadians and the environment.
All this work reached its peak in February 2018 when the federal government tabled two environmental reform bills. Bill C-69 would replace the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with a new Impact Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act with a new Canadian Energy Regulator Act. It would also amend the Navigation Protection Act. Bill C-68 proposes amendments to the Fisheries Act.
In June 2019, both these bills were passed into law.
In 2012, the then-federal government significantly weakened Canada’s environmental legal framework. These amendments removed environmental safeguards in the Fisheries Act that virtually eliminated fish habitat protection — the most important factor responsible for the decline and loss of fish including our commercial fish stocks. They also gutted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, exempting thousands of projects from review. The National Energy Board Act was amended to narrow the scope of project reviews, restrict public participation, and strip the regulator of its decision-making power. They also made significant changes to what was then known as the Navigable Waters Protection Act by drastically reducing the protections given to navigable waters in Canada and eliminating environmental assessment requirements.
When the current federal government took steps to review our environmental laws, we knew this was a once in a generation opportunity to not only repeal the 2012 rollbacks but to deliver the modernized set of environmental laws needed to protect nature, our health and our communities.
We’ll consider our efforts to strengthen Canada’s environmental laws a successful when we have laws that restore lost protections and we’ve regained public trust in regulatory bodies and reviews. We need strong, enforceable, and well-implemented environmental laws that will better protect Canadians and the environment for generations to come.