Do you believe in the rule of law? If you are reading this, you would likely say you do. You may not know exactly how to put your belief into words, but it might fall along the lines of — everyone, from people to corporations to governments, must act according to laws that protect our fundamental rights.
If you are reading this, you also probably believe in environmental sustainability. Again, you may not know exactly how to describe that, but it probably includes making things better, not leaving the earth in even worse shape.
Canada’s environmental laws, however, do not protect our fundamental environmental rights. We have no national laws to fight climate change, now recognized as one of the greatest threats to our health and well-being. We are one of the few wealthy nations in the world that has not enshrined the right to a healthy environment in our constitution. Many of our so-called environmental laws are actually about limiting the impact environment protections will have on resource extraction — particularly oil and gas.
In December 2011, a lobby group for the Canadian oil and gas industry wrote the federal government asking it to change several laws, gutting environmental protections. The result was the 2012 omnibus budget bill, which dramatically weakened regulatory oversight of major projects like pipelines and narrowed the public’s right to participate in environmental decision-making. As the CBC reported, “Within 10 months of the request, the industry had almost everything it wanted.”
As Canada’s only national environmental law charity, we spend most of our time talking to judges who interpret the law. While we have won our share of landmark victories over the years, judges must work with the laws and environmental policies already on the books. And Canada’s environmental laws and policies don’t get them very far.
In fact, our laws have only gotten worse. Last year, a report released by the Washington-based Center for Global Development ranked Canada’s environmental protection record dead last among 27 wealthy countries. The Center noted that Canada is the only country whose environmental protections have deteriorated since the index began in 2003.
So, if you believe in the rule of law, and if you believe in environmental sustainability, we need you to talk to the people who write our laws. With a federal election looming, now’s the time. We have a chance to regain lost ground, and then some, if we send a collective message: Canadians expect our government to introduce, uphold and enforce strong environmental laws.
Evidence from around the world proves that strengthening environmental laws, such as enshrining a constitutional right to a healthy environment, leads to better environmental outcomes and a lighter ecological footprint. Even modest law reforms can improve our health, help restore damaged ecosystems, and pave the way for a more sustainable future.
In the lead up to the election, I urge you to research candidates in your riding. Find out where they stand on addressing the environmental issues that matter most to you. Most importantly, get out there on election day and cast your vote for strong environmental laws.