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.
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.
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.
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.