After a fractious and sometimes heated campaign, Canadians have elected a Parliament that largely resembles the one elected less than two years ago in 2019. The Liberals managed to hold onto power for a third mandate, their second as a minority government.
While the election campaign is finished, the interlocking climate, pollution and biodiversity crises continue to threaten the future of every person in Canada.
It is now time for all parties to look beyond partisanship and move quickly to find common ground and work together to build a safer, healthier future for all people in Canada.
Polling during the federal election shows that Canadians expect their political leadership to fight the climate crisis, reduce pollution, and better protect the air, land, and water we depend on for our survival and wellbeing.
Here are four clear actions the new federal government can take in the coming months to show its commitment to confronting these challenges.
Modernize the Canadian Environmental Protection Act
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), which is supposed to protect Canadians from toxic pollution and environmental hazards, is one of Canada’s most important environmental laws. However, the law has not been updated in more than 20 years and it no longer effectively protects Canadians from modern-day harms.
In the last Parliament, the government introduced Bill C-28, legislation introducing CEPA reforms — including language recognizing your right to a healthy environment, a first for Canadian federal law. This bill, while welcome and containing promising updates, still fell short of all the reforms needed to ensure CEPA adequately protects the health of Canadians and our environment. Because of the snap federal election, Bill C-28 was never debated in the House of Commons and died on the order paper.
With Parliament expected to return in November, the new federal government must prioritize introduction of a stronger CEPA reform bill, work with opposition parties in Parliament to pass it into law and deliver on the commitments made during the federal election.
Ensure environmental justice for all
Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution in Canada — this is known as environmental racism.
Environmental racism’s systemic nature means that everything that informs a particular decision — lobbying, laws and policies, who gets to have a say — leads to results that can and often do disproportionately hurt BIPOC communities. They harm peoples’ health, destroy natural environments, and threaten cultures.
In the last Parliament, 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. But due to the federal election call, this legislation also died on the order paper.
During the election campaign, the Liberals committed to table legislation that would examine the links between race, socio-economic status, and exposure to environmental risk, and develop a strategy to address environmental justice.
As they return to Ottawa, the government must move to quickly introduce an environmental justice bill to address and remedy the legacy of systemic environmental racism in Canada, and to chart a path to more equitable future.
End thermal coal exports
In June 2021, the last federal government recognized 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 future decisions of the federal government 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.
But Canada still exports millions of tonnes of coal through its ports each year — much of which comes from the United States. During the election, the Liberals committed to going further by banning thermal coal exports from and through Canada by no later than 2030.
The continued export of thermal coal has no place in a world that is in the grips of a climate emergency. The sooner this policy is implemented, the sooner we get Canada, and the world, off coal. The new federal government must initiate the process to ban all thermal coal exports as soon as they get back to work in Ottawa.
Deliver Canada’s first climate plan
The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, passed before the last Parliament rose, holds the federal government accountable for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.
The new federal government will be responsible for delivering Canada’s first climate plan under this legislation. This first plan must set a high standard for governments of the future to follow and chart a clear and credible course to net-zero.
In its campaign platform, the Liberals committed to a 40-45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
To get there, they will need to deliver on key policies promised during the campaign, including capping emissions from the oil and gas sector at current levels and setting five-year targets to keep the sector on track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. These measures — among many others — must be reflected in Canada’s first climate plan, which the federal government is required by law to table in the next few months.
What happens next
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce his new Cabinet in the next few weeks, and each Minister will receive a mandate letter that outlines their priorities for this Parliament. Ecojustice expects the issues outlined above to feature strongly in the mandate letter for the next Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
It will be critical for the new federal government to make rapid progress on these key priorities to show Canadians they are ready to take serious action to confront the existential environmental threats that put our collective health and wellbeing at risk.
Thanks to our supporters, Ecojustice will continue to keep the pressure on this federal government to take ambitious and effective action to secure a brighter environmental future. Stay tuned.