New Report Shows “Systematic Dismantling” of Canada’s Environmental Laws Under Conservative Government

A new report released Wednesday chronicles the changes made to Canada’s environmental laws under the federal Conservatives since they formed government in 2011.

The report, released by West Coast Environmental Law and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, highlights “the repeal or amendment of most of Canada’s foundational environmental laws since 2011” and suggests many of the changes were a “gift to industry.”

“The record suggests that industry lobbied hard for removing environmental protections that it believed were impeding business,” the report states.

Major changes include the weakening of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which removed 99 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers from protection, as well as changes to the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.

Weakening of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act means approximately 90 per cent of major industry projects that would have undergone a federal review no longer will, according to the report.

Karine Peloffy, director general of the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, said Canada’s environmental legislation is intrinsically tied into the fabric of the country’s democracy.

“Our waters, species, and our very democracy have been put at risk by changes made to our environmental laws since 2011,” Peloffy said.

“When these legal changes were first brought in, we could only speculate about the impacts they would have on Canadians and the environment. Unfortunately, our analysis indicates that our fears have been borne out on the ground.”

Summary of environmental law changes from Canada's Track Record on Environmental Laws 2011-2015.

The majority of the legal changes were pushed through via omnibus budget legislation, something the current Conservative government has employed more than any previous government.

The report refers to omnibus budget bill C-38 (voting record here) and C-45 (voting record here) as “two critical blows” to environmental law “in order to streamline approval processes for risky or controversial industrial activities.”

“Basically all of the main changes that were made to federal environmental laws in those two omnibus budget bills, C-38 and C-45, were made at the request of industry,” West Coast Environmental Law Association staff counsel Anna Johnston, author of the report, told DeSmog Canada.

“We have the evidence to show that.”

The report is accompanied by a comparison of federal party platforms as they relate to environmental law (see below).

Platform promises put forward by the NDP, the Green Party and the Liberal Party reflect the public’s concern about the way environmental laws have been altered in recent years.

Johnston said the result of weaker environmental laws is that the public is pushed out of the democratic process.

“I think there’s a lot in the three platforms about that — about including Aboriginal peoples, the public and other stakeholders groups — not just industry — in developing and ensuring the implementation of environmental laws.”

Changes made to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act limit public participation to “interested parties” — those who can demonstrate they are “directly affected” by a project or have relevant expertise that relates to the project.

As a result of this law, hundreds of British Columbians were barred from participating in the review process for the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, leading to a loss of public confidence in the process.

Johnston said that loss of confidence in process has led to significant social unrest in Canada.

“If you have a process that is a sham process the public is going to feel ripped off and eventually they are going to find a way to have their voices heard,” she said. “Which is why we see people getting arrested on Burnaby Mountain, forming protests up in Fort St. John against Site C, and the formation of Idle No More.”

Johnston said stronger environmental laws that carve out a space for public participation, on the other hand, help alleviate this kind of social distress.

“With meaningful participation, even if people don’t agree with the end results, they feel like they’ve had their concerns heard.” 

“I think that tends to reduce the amount of civil disobedience and the amount of proceedings brought to the courts. And I think it results in better assessments, because you have more information and evidence and testing of evidence,” Johnston said.  

Party platform comparisons from West Coast Environmental Law and the Quebec Environmental Law Centre can be seen below. Click on images for full report:

Image: Chris Yakimov via Flickr

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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