Ecojustice Blog – Special Update Posted on November 15, 2017 (updated: November 17, 2017)

We need strong laws for healthy communities and a resilient environment

Josh GinsbergJosh GinsbergLawyer

Now is a crucial moment for Canada’s environmental laws. We’re making sure government gets it right when drafting legislation this winter.   

For more than a year, the Ecojustice team has taken part in each step of the federal government’s processes to review key environmental laws. We’ve testified before standing committees, presented submissions to expert panels across the country, and met with legislators and bureaucrats about the Fisheries Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) and the Navigation Protection Act.

We weren’t the only ones calling on the government to make substantial changes to the way our environmental laws work. During the past couple months, more than 30,000 people like you took action to urge the federal government to deliver on its promise to strengthen these critical environmental laws.

But the work didn’t end there.

Last week, Ecojustice along with many other environmental organizations and community groups headed to Parliament Hill to make a final push before bills are introduced this winter and legislators sit down to start debating proposed revisions to these laws.

The inside scoop: What needs to change

Ecojustice’s legal experts spend the majority of their time in court arguing over the minute details of the law. It’s this experience that gives us the unique perspective to comment on what needs to change to make our environmental laws stronger.

We’ve met with cabinet ministers, Senators, officials, and MPs of all political stripes with a simple message — it’s time to enact next-generation environmental laws that will protect our communities and the environment from pollution and toxics, confront climate change, regain public trust and build a sustainable future.

While it was a long three days, we’re happy to report that we are hopeful that our recommendations resonated with those that took the time to sit down and discuss the future of Canada’s environmental laws. Here is a brief breakdown of what we are asking government to do:

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

Parliament needs to enact a leading-edge law that safeguards the environment, builds public trust, advances reconciliation and ensure the right projects get built. This can be achieved by:

  • 1. Ensuring sustainable outcomes;
  • 2. Prioritizing regional and strategic assessments;
  • 3. Establishing a single, independent responsible agency for the EA process;
  • 4. Permitting meaningful review of process and final decisions;
  • 5. Ensuring a robust evidentiary basis for decisions;
  • 6. Triggering assessment of more projects;
  • 7. Upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Canadian Environmental Protection Act

We need parliament to amend CEPA with the recommended updates made in the final report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development—which include recommendations on environmental rights, toxics regulations and protections for vulnerable populations — without delay in order to improve public health, better protect the environment and recognize Canadians’ environmental rights.

Fisheries Act

We need parliament to establish a legal and policy framework to protect, restore and sustain Canada’s fisheries and the rivers, lakes and oceans that support them — for generations to come by:

  • 1. Restoring and modernizing fish habitat protections;
  • 2. Including a clear legal requirement to rebuild fish stocks, establishing a mandate in legislation to restore depleted fish populations through rebuilding plans that include detailed actions, timelines and public reporting requirements;
  • 3. Establishing a clear purpose in the Act that focuses on the sustainable management, conservation and protection of Canada’s fisheries and fish habitat;
  • 4. Incorporating modern principles, such as evidence-based decision-making, ecosystem-based management, precaution, climate resilience, and cumulative effects into decisions, regulations and policies;
  • 5. Strengthening governance and decision-making through co-management with Indigenous peoples and implementation of UNDRIP principles;
  • 6. Requiring that proponents report key information on all projects, works and activities subject to the Fisheries Act in an open access public registry;
  • 7. Ensuring sufficient resources and capacity are in place to effectively administer, implement and enforce a new Fisheries Act, including for partnership and co-management.

National Energy Board Act

Parliament must restore trust in federal institutions and establish an unbiased, forward-looking and evidence-based energy regulatory landscape by:

  • 1. Centralizing the responsibility for environmental assessment (EA) within a single agency;
  • 2. Employing a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) to address disconnect between climate policy and energy planning;
  • 3. Creating an independent agency to produce and disseminate high quality energy data and statistics;
  • 4. Expanding opportunities for public participation and Indigenous reconciliation through funding, new mechanisms and the removal of existing barriers.

Navigable Waters Protection Act

We need government to keep its promise to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards in order to ensure all of Canada’s waterways are protected by:

  • 1. Ensuring that all waters used for, or are important to navigation are protected in law;
  • 2. Managing obstructions by regulating “major works” on all navigable waters;
  • 3. Developing a public complaint mechanism;
  • 4. Including a public registry which clearly documents applied, permitted and approved projects in either scheduled or unscheduled waters.

Next steps: Ensuring government gets it right

While we’re cautiously optimistic that our efforts have tipped the scale in favour of modernizing our laws so they are stronger, more enforceable and fair, the ball is now in the government’s court: it says that it will introduce reform bills early in the New Year.

Ecojustice will continue to put pressure on elected officials to live up to the opportunity it has before it. The time to enact next-generation environmental laws is here. Let’s get it right!

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Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

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