MPs from across Canada are back in Ottawa this month to get back to work drafting, debating, and voting on legislation. Laws and policies that must reduce Canada’s emissions, tackle toxic pollution impacting our daily lives, and reverse the loss of biodiversity must be at the top of the priority list for all elected officials!

Parliament officially returned at the end of November last year, when the Governor General outlined the priorities for the new federal government in the speech from the throne. The throne speech outlined the big challenges and opportunities that Canada faces and set out a high-level vision for how to tackle them.

In December, the Prime Minister sent mandate letters to each member of Cabinet, outlining the priorities for this new government.

Now the important work starts.

Last year brought home the reality of climate chaos to so many people across Canada, as wildfires burned, heatwaves killed hundreds, and flooding washed homes away.

This federal government has committed to being bolder and more ambitious in its environmental policy. They must now follow through on their word and implement solutions that match the urgency of the situation at hand.

Making progress in a minority parliament requires MPs to work together across party lines. Here are some of the key issues Ecojustice is calling on all MPs to prioritize as they return to Ottawa.

Modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is Canada’s cornerstone environmental law, but it has been more than two decades since it was last updated and it is showing its age. This legislation no longer adequately protects Canadians from everyday toxic pollution. Gaps in the current law put public health at risk.

During the last parliamentary session, the federal government introduced Bill C-28, a bill to finally update CEPA. While not perfect, the bill promised to significantly modernize the law after years of campaigning by environmental groups, health experts and everyday members of the public.

Due to the snap federal election, this proposed legislation did not complete the legislative process, to become law.

The new federal government now has an opportunity to introduce an even stronger version of a CEPA reform bill, that will better protect Canadians and guarantee all people in Canada an unqualified right to a healthy environment.

Order an immediate ban on thermal coal exports

In June 2021, the last federal government determined that “any new thermal coal mining projects, or expansion projects in Canada, are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects”, and said this position will inform all its future decisions on thermal coal mining projects.

The announcement effectively sounded the death knell for any new thermal coal mining projects in Canada and was celebrated as a win for the climate, given that thermal coal is the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.

Unfortunately, Canada still exports millions of tonnes of coal through its ports each year — much of which comes from the United States — something that must stop if Canada is to truly relegate thermal coal to the history books where it belongs.

This federal government has committed to banning the export of thermal coal by 2030, and repeated this promise at COP26.  Ecojustice is urging the federal government to expedite the deadline to ban thermal coal from 2030 to 2023.

The continued export of thermal coal has no place in a world gripped by the climate emergency. The sooner this policy is implemented, the sooner we get Canada — and the world — off thermal coal.

Deliver environmental justice for everyone in Canada

Toxic pollution and exposure to dangerous chemicals impact people across Canada, but Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) communities — as well as lower-income communities —often suffer the worst effects of that toxic legacy. This experience is known as environmental racism.

Canada’s system of laws and policies tend to reinforce environmental racism. Environmental decision-making — whether a project should go ahead, where pollution is permitted, etc. — routinely results in significantly poorer outcomes for BIPOC communities, than for predominately white communities. These decisions can put BIPOC communities at a greater risk of developing serious disease and illness, degrade the quality of their surrounding environment, and even undermine their cultural practices.

Canada has no legal foundation to identify, examine, or assess the impact of environmental pollution on racialized and low-income communities. This is to the detriment of these communities, who are often shut out of decision-making and then left to deal with the devastating health, social and cultural impacts of pollution with little to no support.

In the last Parliament, a bill that addressed environmental racism, the National Strategy Respecting Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice Act (Bill C-230, a private member’s bill), was introduced, passed the environment committee and was due for a final vote in the House of Commons this fall. As a result of the federal election call, this legislation also died on the order paper.

Ecojustice is calling on the federal government to introduce a legal framework to address the toxic legacy of environmental racism, starting with reviving Bill C-230.

Hold financial institutions accountable for having a credible plan to align with the Paris Agreement

As long as Canada’s financial institutions invest in coal, oil and gas corporations, we severely hinder our chances of avoiding climate catastrophe.

Financial institutions like banks and pension funds have an important role to play in moving capital away from Canada’s emissions-heavy industries and toward renewables and other technologies that are essential to a low-carbon future.

To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (as set out in the Paris Agreement), no new fossil fuel supply can be developed and no new investment in fossil fuels is needed. Aligning finance with international climate targets is a key article in the Paris Agreement.

In Canada, there is currently no clear legal requirement for financial institutions to align their business with climate change goals and fund a safe and sustainable future. This must change.

It is time for the federal government to introduce a corporate climate accountability law that forces Canadian companies, banks, and other financial institutions to align their business with the goals of the Paris Agreement and do their part to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Keeping pressure on politicians  

As Parliament returns, Ecojustice remains committed to holding those in power to account, in an effort to build a healthy and safe future for everyone in Canada.

In the midst of climate chaos, dangerous exposure to pollution, and the loss of biodiversity, our work is more important than ever.

Ecojustice supporters (people like you) have a crucial role to play in pushing elected officials to take the necessary action to provide solutions to Canada’s interlocking environmental problems.

Take action today to demand political leadership on the environment and stay tuned as to how you can lend your voice to creating a brighter future for all.