An Environmental Bill of Rights For All Canadians

Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, A crucial piece of legislation that would see major changes in the way the Canadian government approaches environmental issues passed its second reading in June.

The bill, sponsored by New Democrat Environment Critic Linda Duncan, would entrench environmental rights into Canadian Law. Many provinces and about 140 countries have already established some form of environmental rights protection, yet we still have no entrenched environmental rights at the federal level.

This important piece of legislation will safeguard the right of present and future generations of Canadians to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. By confirming the Government of Canada’s public trust duty to protect the environment under its jurisdiction, we can ensure all Canadians have access to adequate environmental information, justice in an environmental context and effective mechanisms for participating in environmental decision-making. It will provide adequate legal protection against reprisals for employees who take action for the purpose of protecting the environment, and enhance the public confidence in the implementation of environmental law.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Bill C-469 is that it would hold the Federal Government accountable for any infraction of their own laws that causes damage to the Canadian environment. It would place power back in the hands of Canadian citizens if something were to happen to our natural environment, and place this and subsequent governments in an actionable position if they don’t play by the rules.
Although the bill received full support from all opposition parties, it was disheartening that not one Conservative member chose to support the bill. It’s unfortunate that, after making all of the flowery campaign promises about holding government accountable for their actions, the Conservative government has once again shown its true colours by voting against another crucial piece of legislation that would ensure government accountability on environmental issues.

Not only did the Conservatives vote against the bill, but, prior to the vote, they attempted to have the bill, C-469, withdrawn because of claims that it could cost them money. However, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken overturned the move to block the bill, stating “the bill provides a new means by which the Crown can be proceeded against where it has failed to meet its legal obligations.”

The Federal NDP has been fighting consistently to ensure we have proper environmental regulations in Canada. Just months ago, we managed to pass the NDP Climate Change Accountability Act, which allows us to see real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, with a 25% reduction of 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Locally, we’ve seen our share of victories and problems with regards to environmental protection. Blind River has recently been granted funding for the establishment of the Blind River Solar Generating Facility. The facility will produce enough electricity to power 1,500 homes per month.

However, we are also in the midst of the tragic draining of the upper reaches of the Mississagi River by Brazillian-owned Brascan. This is destroying access to Tunnel Lake and Rocky Island Lake, among other regions, all due to a foreign company wishing to ensure they stay profitable. Fish spawning has been disrupted, habitat that has been enhanced to support stocking efforts is high and dry and the lives of many residents have been stunted.

Many seem to believe that economy trumps the environment, which always brings to mind an old Aboriginal proverb: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”