Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights

An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts


Richard Cannings  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of Dec. 6, 2023

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-219.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment enacts the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights , which provides that every person residing in Canada has the following rights:
(a) the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment;
(b) the right to reasonable, timely and affordable access to information regarding the environment;
(c) the right to effective, informed and timely public participation in decision-making regarding the environment, including in relation to any Act of Parliament respecting the environment and any environmental policy of the Government of Canada;
(d) the right to bring a matter regarding the protection of the environment before courts or tribunals; and
(e) the right to request a review of any Act of Parliament respecting the environment, any instrument made under such an Act or any environmental policy of the Government of Canada.
The enactment also provides for an application by a person residing in Canada for an investigation by the responsible Minister of an offence under any Act of Parliament respecting the environment other than the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 . In addition, it provides for an environmental protection action to be brought by a person in respect of such an investigation as well as an environmental protection action to be brought by a person against a person who has contravened or is likely to contravene an Act of Parliament respecting the environment if certain conditions are met.
The enactment amends the Auditor General Act to allow petitions for the review of any Act of Parliament to be made respecting the environment, any instrument made under such an Act or any environmental policy of the Government of Canada.
The enactment amends the Federal Courts Act to allow an application for judicial review to be made by a person not directly affected by the matter in respect of which relief is sought if certain conditions are met, including the condition that the matter relate to the protection of the environment.
Finally, this enactment also amends the Canadian Bill of Rights to provide that the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Dec. 6, 2023 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-219, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:30 p.m.
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Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

moved that Bill C-219, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I stand in the chamber this evening to begin debate on my bill, Bill C-219, the Canadian environmental bill of rights. I first want to thank Linda Duncan, the author of this bill, who introduced it on four occasions over 11 years during her time as the member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona. On one of those occasions, it passed at second reading, but it unfortunately died when an election was called.

There are environmental bills of rights in Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but until last night, there was no federal law that explicitly recognized the right to a healthy environment in Canada. With the passing of Bill S-5, which updated the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we now have a federal statement of rights to a healthy environment, but those rights are limited to the scope of CEPA, basically to toxins within our environment, and those rights have no accountability processes or powers associated with them. Bill C-219 would expand and strengthen those rights to the rest of the scope of federal jurisdiction.

Last summer, on July 28, 2022, the UN General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution that recognized the right to a healthy environment around the world. With Canada voting for that resolution to join the rest of the world and 92% of Canadians agreeing with it, it is certainly high time we had federal legislation that recognizes that right. We are behind the rest of the world in that regard. Over 80% of UN member states already legally recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

International efforts to recognize this right go back to the 1972 Stockholm declaration, which recognized the right to an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being. After that came the United Nations Aarhus convention in 2001. This multilateral agreement, more fully known as the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, protects every person's right to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being. The Aarhus convention links environmental rights and human rights. It acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations. It establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the involvement of all stakeholders. It links government accountability and environmental protection, and focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context. According to the Aarhus convention website, it is, at its heart, about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. It grants the public rights, and it imposes on parties and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation in and access to justice.

This is what this bill would do as well. Bill C-219 would extend the right to a healthy, ecologically balanced environment to all Canadian residents. It would do this by amending the Canadian Bill of Rights to add the right to a healthy environment; by providing a bundle of rights and legal tools to all residents of Canada, including accessing information around environmental issues and decisions, standing before courts and tribunals, transparent processes that will help hold the government accountable on effective environmental enforcement and on the review of law and policies through investigations and, if necessary, environmental protection actions; and by extending protections for government whistle-blowers who release information relevant to health and environmental impacts.

This bill would apply only to federal jurisdiction, and would not change provincial environmental law. The bill would not take away from the rights of Canadian indigenous peoples, as recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution. The bill would specifically exclude the Canadian Environmental Protection Act from its ambit, as that act, after the passage of Bill S-5 last night, provides rights to a healthy environment, although restricted to the scope of that bill. Bill C-219 would extend those rights to the rest of federal legislation.

Why do we need this? For one thing, Canadians want it. As I mentioned, in a recent poll, 92% of Canadians agreed we should have the right to live in a healthy environment. However, the right to a clean and healthy environment is a hollow promise if it does not come with accountability measures. That is because, unfortunately, governments often simply do not live up to the legislation they pass. They do not take action to enforce that legislation, including legislation meant to protect our environment.

I will mention two quick examples of this, and I am sure everyone here in the chamber could add to that list. Ten years ago, in July 2013, a tanker truck rolled into Lemon Creek in the beautiful Slocan Valley, in my riding, and spilled its entire load of 33,000 litres of aviation fuel into this pristine water source. Although this clearly caused environmental harm, not only to the stream and the life within it but also to the residents of the Slocan Valley who relied on that water source, the government of the day refused to act. It was left to a courageous local resident, Marilyn Burgoon, to initiate court action against the trucking company under the federal Fisheries Act. Eventually, perhaps shamed by Marilyn's powerful example, the federal government did agree to step in to help fight this battle, which dragged on until January 2020, for seven years, before finally being resolved. Sadly, Marilyn passed away a few weeks before that case was concluded, but her legacy in the Slocan Valley lives on, and her memory is cherished by many.

If we declare that Canadians have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment, we must make sure the federal government is accountable for holding up its part of that all-important bargain. Bill C-219 would do that.

Another example is a more personal one to me. I used to work as a consulting ecologist, and much of my work involved species at risk. For eight years, I was one of the co-chairs of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC. Under the Species at Risk Act, or SARA as it is called in the trade, COSEWIC has the task of assessing wild species in Canada and advising the government, through the Minister of Environment, of its decisions. Every year, COSEWIC writes a letter to the minister and lists the assessments it has made. Some species might be listed as endangered. Others may be listed as threatened, and still others may be listed as not at risk. Under SARA, the government has nine months to make a decision about listing a species after receiving the advice from COSEWIC. It can adopt the advice or not, but the decision is public and transparent. If a cabinet decision is not made, the decision defaults to the COSEWIC-assessed status.

All this sounds perfectly logical, but what happened under the Harper government was unexpected. It decided the clock started ticking when the minister told cabinet, so it came up with the cunning plan that the minister would not tell cabinet at all about COSEWIC assessments, even though they were on the public registry. Therefore, that government listed zero species for four years, despite having been advised to list over 80. It avoided the transparent decision part of the deal. I pressured the current Liberal government to at least change that in policy, though it was reluctant to support the bill I put forward to change it into law, so now it is public policy that listing cannot be put off indefinitely.

Bill C-219 could help in that situation too, since it covers all federal legislation, including SARA, the Fisheries Act and others. This would be for all legislation I mentioned except the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which is carved out because it has a similar promise when it comes to living in a clean and healthy environment.

Like most members with private members' bills, I have talked to each party about my bill and about why its so important and what it would and would not do. In one of those discussions, the issue of constitutionality came up, so I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about that issue. I will say right off the top that I am confident this bill is constitutional. For one thing, this is the fifth time the bill has been introduced, and as far as I know, this is the first time this concern has been raised. As I mentioned before, the bill passed second reading in a previous Parliament, and the bill is explicitly concerned with actions based on existing federal legislation.

None of the rights here apply to matters that are found only in provincial legislation, so I was confident this concern had no real foundation. However, to be sure, I asked the House of Commons legal department to provide an opinion on this matter. This is the conclusion of its opinion:

After having reviewed the bill carefully, we are of the opinion that the main subject of the bill is not the environment. Consider that the bill would not regulate any aspect of the environment, such as water quality, air quality, species at risk or toxic substances. Rather, the bill relates to civil liberties, which may be regulated by either level of government, depending on which level of government has legislative authority over the institutions and activities to which the civil liberties apply. In the case of Bill C-219, most provisions explicitly apply to federal matters only.

The opinion also explains why three provisions, while not explicitly applying to federal matters, would be considered by any court as applying to federal matters. Accordingly, the opinion states that no amendment to Bill C-219 is necessary.

In summary, the environment is a jurisdiction shared between the provinces and the federal government. Some people might therefore be concerned that this bill treads on provincial jurisdiction. However, since this bill deals with human rights and civil rights, and deals with them on matters of federal issues only, this bill is constitutional. I am confident of that and I do not think we need to amend it in any way to deal with that issue.

I am going to conclude with a plea. We are so proud of this country. We are proud of its size, its beauty and all the resources it provides for us in ways that keep us living in a healthy way in this clean environment. It gives us jobs and also keeps us healthy. I think everybody in the House would agree that we have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. If we have that right, we need legislation to uphold that right. That is what Bill C-219 would do, and I hope that everyone here will support this bill and provide that right to all Canadians.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:40 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's bringing forward the legislation, and his comment. The member has made reference to the fact that the bill has been brought forward to the House in the past. He also made reference to the fact that there is joint responsibility between the provinces and the federal government. I would add indigenous peoples to that as a very important factor when we talk about anything related to the environment, let alone any other issue that might be out there.

Could he just share whether he has had that dialogue and whether he has some direct information he can provide in terms of feedback from the provinces, territories and indigenous communities?

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
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Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, as I said, this bill would not infringe on anything involving the indigenous rights under section 35. I discussed this with my colleagues here in this place: the member for Nunavut and the member for Winnipeg Centre, who are well versed in these matters.

Again, this is the fifth time this bill has been tabled in this place. Those matters have been discussed in committee and discussed at length in other venues, so I am confident we are actually making this country a clean and healthy place for all. Indigenous people are really the best stewards we have had, and I am sure they would appreciate any legislation that would keep us all protected from anything that would limit the ability for us to live in a healthy environment.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
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Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I am on the environment committee, so if it does proceed past this stage, I will look forward to seeing it studied in more detail.

In relation to indigenous communities and indigenous people here in Canada, could the member unpack how this legislation would impact that special relationship that indigenous communities have with the Crown, and how that would impact the environment? I am specifically asking in relation to a number of communities in Alberta that are looking for partnership opportunities when it comes to resource development. I know there are other economic opportunities, fisheries on the coast, and otherwise. Could the member expand on that?

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
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Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, that question is very similar to the previous one.

With regard to development or anything like that that would have an impact on the environment, Bill C-219 operates through federal legislation. Any development that went through federal legislation, having gone through those regulations, got their permits and all that, would not be affected by this at all.

This only comes into effect when there are developments that contravene those regulations, those protections that we already have in place. It would not affect any development that is proceeding legally whatsoever.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
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Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his bill and the care he took to ensure that it did not affect Quebec's environmental sovereignty.

Can he clarify how his bill goes much further than the study we did in committee on Bill S‑5 with respect to the right to a healthy environment?

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:45 p.m.
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Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, I am assuming that the member was referring to how this bill extends these rights further than Bill S-5 and in a stronger way.

This covers all federal legislation, not just the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and it provides, as I mentioned, mechanisms for citizens, if they feel that the federal government is not responding to environmental issues, such as companies that are breaking the law with regard to the environment, citizens could demand an investigation. If that proceeds to a certain point, they could even take environmental action.

If we are giving people the right to live in a healthy environment, we must uphold that right and we must hold the government accountable with transparent measures so that people know that they can enjoy this right.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 5:50 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member bringing forward Bill C-219. As he is indicated on several occasions, this is legislation that, with a different bill number, has been before the House in the past.

The timing is really interesting. Just yesterday, we had royal assent on Bill S-5. I was encouraged by the way many members of the House spoke to Bill S-5. I thought that maybe I would pick up on a couple of points, if I may, the first one being something that I think, far too often, does get overlooked, something that we should be talking about more whenever we talk about the environment.

It is a shared responsibility, as we know. If one were to do a radar scan of one's constituents, we would find that it is typically in the top three or four issues. For me, in Winnipeg North, health care might be number one or in the top two, but the environment and concerns related to the environment are consistently among the top issues that want to be talked about. They also want to see action on the issue of the environment.

The member talks about shared responsibility. Often, when we talk about shared responsibility, we do not highlight the importance of indigenous people. When we talk about reconciliation, I think it is absolutely critical that indigenous people, governments, first governments and so forth be recognized and appreciated in terms of their important role traditionally, today and going into the future.

I like to think that Bill S-5, in good part, reinforces that. We talk about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and its adoption. We need to apply that lens to the different types of legislation that come through the House.

That is the reason I had posed the question to the member. I am concerned about the issue of jurisdictional responsibility, recognizing that the environment does not recognize borders, interprovincially or internationally.

We just saw a very good example of that with the forest fires. I am thinking of Quebec, Nova Scotia and Alberta. We had responses across Canada, in trying to assist in dealing with these fires. We also had direct contact with the President of the United States, who was concerned about the quality of air that is going south of the Canada-U.S. border.

I would like to emphasize that when one talks about the environment, one has jurisdictional responsibility but, even more importantly, many would argue that there is a moral responsibility that is tagged to that jurisdictional responsibility, because air knows no boundaries; water knows no boundaries.

When we take a look at what the member also emphasized, it is the issue of environmental rights, the idea of having a right to a healthy environment. That is why, at the beginning, I tied Bill S-5 in. When I spoke on Bill S-5, I like to think that I amplified the issue of the right to a healthy environment and the expectations that Canadians have regarding it.

Bill S-5 dealt with the assessment and management of substances and ensured that Canadians and residents from coast to coast to coast have a direct link to ensure that they have that right to a healthy environment.

I understand that the legislation that is being proposed, Bill C-219, wants to expand on that. I think it is worth looking at. The right to a healthy environment means more than just the air we breathe. We can and should be expanding on that.

I do not want to say that I know all the details of the legislation, nor have I been around to hear the discussions that have taken place at the committee level. What I do know is that there is, as an issue, a desire of the people of Canada to see the government be proactive at dealing with our environment.

I also recognize that there are not only the legislative measures that I referred to in relation to Bill S-5, but there are also budgetary measures and measures that would be incorporated through regulations that also deal with the concerns that we have with respect to the population as a whole.

I would like to highlight a few of those measures. When we talk about our environment, we need to try to put it in a way most people, including myself, can understand the issues. When I think of a right to a healthy environment, I would like to think there is a tangible recourse dealing with an issue that is affecting me. When I say “me”, I am not talking about me as a member of Parliament. I am talking about me as a resident and anyone in the communities we represent.

If they witness or have a concern about something that is taking place in our environment, they need a vehicle to express that concern with an expectation that someone is actually listening. Hopefully, some form of action can be taken where it is, in fact, warranted.

I remember many years ago one of the first issues that I ever had to deal with in 1989 or 1990 was the issue of PCBs and how PCBs were impacting a playground at a school. There were concerns, at that time, about Manitoba was going to be able to do.

There are issues of that nature and issues people want to directly get involved in themselves. There are issues like when the government, through a regulation, said that it wanted to ban single-use plastics or it wanted to provide financial assistance to those who are prepared to look at alternatives to fossil fuels.

These are the types of initiatives the government can look at and deliver on. The idea of how we can enhance those environmental rights is something I am very interested in.

I would look for specific examples that we could, in essence, put into a brochure. I think it is important—

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 6 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Unfortunately, the hon. member's time is up. I know that 10 minutes goes by quickly.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent has the floor.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 6 p.m.
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Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to speak in the House, especially on a subject is important as the environment and our vision for the future of the planet and our country for our children and grandchildren.

The bill introduced by our NDP colleague deserves our attention. First of all, we feel that the key element of this bill is that it ensures that people can live in a healthy environment. It is a principle we share, of course, and one we shared in Bill S‑5, as the member stated earlier in response to a question from the member for Terrebonne, my Bloc Québécois counterpart. The bill we are currently studying certainly does go much further than Bill S‑5 in protecting the environment and ensuring that people can live in a healthy environment. We recognize that.

As we see it, however, the bill goes too far in the judicial area. This is a delicate issue. Ultimately, we believe that the judiciary must enforce laws, and that elected representatives of the people must make the laws and vote on them. This is a fundamental principle. Based on the wording of the bill, we think that the judiciary will become the legislative authority. This is where our visions differ. Ultimately, we do not believe that the role of judges is to decide how laws are made, but rather, to decide how they should be enforced. It is the role of the legislator, the elected representatives of the people, to establish legal frameworks. This is not to say that the bill should be scrapped. On the contrary, it contains some positive elements that could serve as inspiration for other legislation and other parliaments. These strong elements could be used to create an even more forceful argument in support of the need for people to live in a healthy environment. We recognize and support this principle.

This gives us the opportunity to discuss the environmental issue. We all know that climate change is real and that it directly affects peoples' lives. Humans contributed to climate change, so they have a responsibility to take steps to reduce the impact of climate change and, essentially, reduce pollution. Members will recall that just a few days ago, on Monday afternoon, the deputy House leader of the official opposition and member for Mégantic—L'Érable read a motion that was unfortunately rejected by the Liberal government, a move we vigorously condemn. The motion included all the elements of our vision for the environment. Unfortunately, it was rejected by the Liberals. I will read the motion moved by my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable:

That the House:

(a) stand in solidarity with and express its support for all those affected by the current forest fires;

(b) acknowledge that climate change is having a direct impact on people's quality of life, and that it is exacerbating the frequency and scale of extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, tornadoes, forest fires and heat waves;

(c) recognize that the federal government must do more to combat climate change, prevent its impacts and support communities affected by natural disasters;

(d) call on the federal government to take concrete action in the fight against climate change, which is at risk of becoming increasingly expensive for both the public and the environment.

That text outlined our vision concerning climate change. It unequivocally stated that we acknowledge that climate change exists, that it has an impact on the extreme weather events that we are experiencing, that it makes them worse and that it is our duty, as parliamentarians, to take concrete steps to address that situation. It is unfortunate that, for the sake of petty partisan politics, the government rejected our motion. The Liberals simply had to say yes. I cannot believe that they had anything against a single word or sentence of that motion. However, they could not acknowledge that we Conservatives are thinking about this issue. I understand them, in a way, because they have nothing to be proud of. After eight years of this government, where does Canada stand on the world environmental stage?

I would remind members that, after being elected in 2015, the Prime Minster was proud as a peacock to stand up at the Paris climate conference and say, “Canada is back”. Eight years later, Canada is way back.

It is not me saying it, it is the UN itself. In November, at COP27 in Egypt, the United Nations tabled a report containing a scathing indictment of this Liberal administration. The report assessed the 63 most industrialized countries and scored each country on effectiveness in fighting climate change. Scientists from around the world who were brought together by the UN gave the following report on the Liberal government that has been in power for eight years. Liberal Canada ranks 58th out of 63 countries in terms of fighting climate change. It is not the Conservatives saying that, it is UN scientists who said it in a report.

Since the UN released that report, I have asked for unanimous consent from the House over a dozen times, if not more, to table that scientific UN document. Once again, the Liberals in power decided that that UN assessment should be swept aside and that they should continue as if nothing were wrong.

The problem is that they talk a good game but cannot deliver. That is also why Equiterre, the group co-founded by the current Minister of Environment and Climate Change that recently marked its 30th anniversary, decided to sue the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, because it feels that the government is good at rhetoric, but not so good at fighting climate change. Once again, it is not the Conservatives saying that, it is Equiterre, the group co-founded by the current Liberal Minister of Environment and Climate Change. On May 6, 2022, he was sued by Equiterre, the group he founded.

The government has chose to fight climate change with taxes. That is not the road we want to take. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, who I just questioned at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, confirmed that the Liberal approach of creating a second carbon tax on clean energy, as they themselves have stated, will have a direct impact on every family in Quebec. Quebec families will need to spend an average of $436 more because of that double carbon tax. In other words, Quebec families will have $436 less in their pockets because of that double carbon tax. People really do not need that when we know that interest rates are rising. We know that everybody is struggling right now. Creating a new tax during a period of inflation when people are struggling is absolutely ridiculous. I would go so far as to say that only the Liberals could come up with such an idea.

Let us talk about the future. Let us talk about hope. We Conservatives want the government to put in place concrete, realistic and responsible measures to tackle climate change. If the Liberals do not, we will. The fundamental principle to consider is the need to reduce pollution. That will take concrete action. What does that mean? It means reaching out to polluters and asking them to cut their pollution as much as possible. It is a bottomless pit, but that is okay.

If we somehow manage to lower our pollution by 20% in one year, I say bravo. However, what is to be done on January 1 to reduce the impact of pollution on our environment? For that, we must rely on research and development, new technologies and tax incentives for businesses to invest in them. Real, concrete measures are needed to reduce pollution.

Then, the green light needs to be given to green energy. In Canada, we have tremendous solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear energy potential. We can develop our green energy potential even further. To do that, however, the government would have to be willing to move forward and not constantly throw up roadblocks every time we come up with an idea.

Under Bill C-69, which was passed in 2019 with the backing of the Bloc Québécois, the federal government gave itself veto power over hydroelectric projects in Quebec. That is crazy. If the Government of Quebec wants to propose a hydroelectric project, it should get every facility to move forward, but the federal government gave itself veto power with the surprising and disappointing backing of the Bloc Québécois.

In addition, our Canadian know-how must be exported. Our natural resources must be exported. It is unfortunate that rare metals like lithium, cobalt and other similar elements are currently being mined in countries where human rights are unfortunately not respected.

We need to promote Canadian potential. The fourth part is more than just a pillar; it is the foundation of our whole vision. It is that all this needs to be done in partnership with first nations, as our leader said at a press conference in Vancouver three months ago.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 6:10 p.m.
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Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, my goodness, I have so much to say to my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent. It is going to take a glass of wine or a beer to talk about it.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C‑219. We believe that it really needs to be studied in committee. At first glance, the bill seems to be well thought out and drafted, with its preamble clearly setting the context for this desire to include real access to the courts as part of the enforcement of the right to a healthy environment.

In reading this bill from my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay, I am pleased to see something other than statements of principle, and to see more legally binding and prescriptive provisions. I am especially pleased that its content has the potential to have a tangible impact on Canadians, the environment and society in general.

Bill C‑219 also stands in contrast to what the Liberal government has given us. I am talking about its claim to have literally created a right to a healthy environment. I do not know about anyone else, but I believe that the word “creation” implies the idea of accomplishing something bigger than oneself.

Still, the Liberal government believes that, with Bill S‑5, which modernizes the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, it has done exactly that. We do not think so, however. In fact, senior officials confirmed that this is merely an interpretation key for the implementation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which does not apply to other legislation and is to be defined at a later date by the Minister of the Environment.

Let me describe this as a communication strategy. What is the point of having a right if it is unenforceable, and if in the event that this right is violated, remedies and penalties are essentially symbolic and serve as neither a deterrent nor a punishment? The answer is obvious. Sadly, there is a lack of accountability for organizations and individuals who think that they are above the law and who commit reprehensible acts that cause serious harm to the natural environment, to the people who have to deal with it, and to society as a whole.

Since 2006, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms has established that “[e]very person has a right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved, to the extent and according to the standards provided by law.”

The Bloc Québécois believes that the Quebec nation has sole jurisdiction over public decisions concerning the environment and Quebec's territory. Therefore, it seems to us that Bill C‑219, as drafted, will be enforceable under federal environmental legislation without adversely affecting the laws of Quebec or Quebec's environmental sovereignty.

In April 2022, members of the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously adopted a motion affirming the primacy of Quebec's jurisdiction in matters of the environment. I would like to make it perfectly clear that in matters of environmental protection, this essential condition must be met before the Bloc Québécois will support any legislative proposal.

Elected members from Quebec also unanimously oppose any environmental intervention by the federal government on Quebec's territory. We view this position, which we will voice systematically on the federal political stage, to be a true reflection of the interests and values of Quebeckers. That is our mandate.

The Bloc Québécois definitely supports the recognition of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right. It has almost been one year since the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a historic resolution declaring that access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a universal human right.

There were 161 countries that voted in favour of the resolution. According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, if we want to make this right a reality, governments must recognize it and do what is required to make it a reality. Governments must also ratify and implement all existing multilateral agreements concerning environmental rights.

Obviously, Bill C‑219 will not make the right to a healthy environment a fundamental right like the rights that are guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, it is interesting to consider studying it in committee if only to examine and better interpret the legal, even constitutional, framework for a Canadian environmental bill of rights.

That said, the bill will amend “the Canadian Bill of Rights to provide that the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.” In that context, it makes sense to think that this right would be quasi-constitutional in scope.

In support of this scope, I should mention that the preamble to the bill states the following:

Whereas action or inaction that results in significant harm to the environment could be regarded as compromising the life, liberty or security of the person and as contrary to section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

Ultimately, my colleague's proposal creates a true right under Canadian environmental laws. It is a right that citizens could avail themselves of in order to require the government to investigate potential violations of environmental laws, to bring an environmental protection action against a person who has allegedly violated federal environmental laws, to file petitions on the review of any federal environmental law, and to file an application for judicial review, including by a person not directly affected by the subject matter of the application, if the matter concerns environmental protection. That is very interesting.

It is significant that the meaning of the word “environment” and the expression “healthy and ecologically balanced environment” is clarified under the “Interpretation“ heading.

I also appreciate that the bill includes the concept of the state as trustee of the public good. Protecting the environment means looking after society's collective interest, which is the role of the state, as much for those living now as for future generations. This principle, the fiduciary doctrine, is the very foundation of the progressive work leading to a better understanding and application of environmental rights around the world.

I must also applaud the Member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay for the attention he has given to an extremely valuable piece of legal content, a section entitled “Paramountcy of Principles of Environmental Law”.

In any legal context, it is vitally important to be able to rely on clear concepts and recognized definitions, if for no other reason than to allow the legislative branch to unambiguously express what the judiciary must have in mind when seized of a case.

I am referring to the polluter pays principle, the principle of sustainable development, the principle of generational equity and the principle of environmental justice. I could also talk about the principle of prudence, but it is not there. Instead, we have the precautionary principle. I want to reassure everyone that just because I was a professor in another life, that does not mean that I am going to flunk a member on their exam. I will just make the correction.

It is a typo. Looking at the English version of the Rio declaration of 1992, it clearly says “precautionary principle”. However, that was poorly translated. The French version refers to the “principe de prudence”, which has nothing to do with the environment. This flawed translation removed the very essence of this principle, which is central to the framework for implementing such a bill.

The Bloc Québécois succeeded in rallying the members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development around this correction during the study of Bill S‑5. The precautionary principle entails abstaining if there is a risk, whereas the idea of prudence instead suggests the authorization of an action and the management of its risk, which is very different. I know my colleague will be quick to make this change. Like the Bloc Québécois, I am sure he sees recognition of the precautionary principle as essential to the framework for implementing legislation to protect the environment.

In conclusion, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill C‑219.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 6:20 p.m.
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Taylor Bachrach NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise on behalf of the people of Skeena—Bulkley Valley in northwest B.C. to speak to Bill C-219, which is before us today.

I will start by paying tribute to my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay. It has been, and continues to be, such a pleasure to work with him in the House. My colleague is an ardent defender of the environment and, in addition to being an excellent parliamentarian, many people do not know that he is one of Canada's foremost bird experts. I think he probably holds the record for the most question period interventions related to birds. I had the opportunity last year to go birdwatching with him, which was a real treat.

His work in the House is a service not only to his constituents, but also to all Canadians. The bill before us is just one example of that work, so I want to thank the member for bringing it forward. I am excited it has gotten to this point and will be put to a vote because this is an issue of interest and concern to so many Canadians.

I also want to acknowledge Linda Duncan, the former member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona, who brought forward a very similar bill during her time in the House. I am sure she is pleased to see these ideas advancing in Parliament.

Sometimes when I sit in this place, I remind myself, particularly on days when we feel stuck in the weeds of the minutiae of different issues, to reflect on our purpose as parliamentarians, the reason we are here, why we are elected and what our constituents want us to focus on. I can think of nothing more central to our mission, more core to our purpose as a Parliament and as a country, than ensuring our citizens are able to live healthy, fulfilling lives. The security and vitality that could be afforded to every Canadian are so important for us to come back to in all of our work. I cannot think of anything more important in this bill than its articulating in Canadian law the right to a healthy environment, which is very central and relevant to the idea of facilitating healthy, fulfilling lives for all Canadians.

I was thinking of another person in preparing for this speech, who was 10 years old when I met him. In 2014, I was a small-town mayor in Vancouver for a conference. Going into the Vancouver Convention Centre, I was approached by a 10-year-old boy named Rupert. He is still out there. I looked at the date, did the math and realized that he is now almost 20. Rupert was approaching all the municipal politicians at this convention and advocating for the very concept that we are talking about today in the House of Commons.

To him, the most important thing we could be doing was ensuring a healthy environment for his generation and generations to come. He looked around at the world that he was inheriting. He was there with his sister Franny, and both were involved in this advocacy. He wanted us, as local politicians, to understand how vitally important it was to protect the environment and pass on an environment that would not put his generation in jeopardy.

I think sometimes 10-year-olds and young people can see complex issues with such moral clarity. One of the reasons I wanted to amend the Canada Elections Act to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to participate in our elections is that I believe they have so much to contribute to the conversation. Even at 10 years old, Rupert was contributing back in 2014, and I am thinking about him today as we debate this bill in the House.

We know that the environment is us. We are the environment. We are inextricably linked to our surroundings, the ecosystems and other systems that support life on this beautiful planet. I was reminded of a quote from David Suzuki that speaks to this very well. He said, “We are of the Earth, every cell in our bodies formed by molecules derived from plants and animals, inflated by water, energized by sunlight captured through photosynthesis and ignited by atmospheric oxygen.”

Rupert was quoted as saying, “If humans are harming the environment, we're directly harming ourselves”. This is something that for so long we have been oblivious to. It is something I believe as humans we once understood much more intuitively and paid more respect to, this concept of being inextricably linked to our environment, but somehow we have forgotten and have moved away from that.

I grew up in a remote community out in the bush. When I think about a clean environment, the image that sticks in my mind is that of drinking right out of the river. My parents had a homestead, and we had a log house on the bank of this swift flowing creek, Kiwa Creek. We had a log that went out onto the creek. My father had flattened the top of the log, and we walk out on to that log with a bucket, scoop water right from the river and drink it without any treatment.

I cannot think of an image that sticks in my mind more when I think of a clean and healthy environment than that of drinking clean water coming from our rivers and streams, yet in so many parts of Canada, that is no longer a safe proposition for people.

How many among us would disagree that Canadians deserve these things, that they deserve to breathe clean air, drink clean water, eat safe food, live lives free of dangerous toxins, receive the many benefits of healthy functioning ecosystems, and most importantly in this day and age, enjoy the benefits of a stable climate and pass a stable climate on to future generations? As well, as this bill speaks to, who would disagree that they deserve to participate in the decisions that affect the environment and, thereby, affect them?

For people raising children in this day and age, the right to a healthy environment has a particularly poignant and meaningful relevance. My children are now 18 and 16 and going off into the world, and I think about the future they are inheriting. There is nothing I want more for them than for them to experience the environment in the way I enjoyed and have all of these things I have spoken of to live lives that are healthy and free from environmental harm.

When thinking about this bill, I also think about all of the people in northwest B.C. who have been fighting for a healthier environment, for a cleaner environment and for the various environmental harms to be dealt with by the government and other governments. I think of the Chicago Creek environmental group near Hazelton, which was responding to a coal spill into Mission Creek, a creek near its community. I heard from indigenous folks in the area, members of the Gitxsan Nation, who are deeply concerned about the impact of that coal spill on the creek itself and on the vegetation surrounding it, vegetation they rely on for a number of purposes.

I think of CN rail, of course, which runs right through the riding I represent. A couple of years ago, CN rail was found guilty of spraying herbicides right into the waterways that flow into the Skeena River, British Columbia's second-largest wild salmon river.

I think of community groups in Smithers and in Kitimat that have been working for years to address air quality concerns. I think of one particular citizen of our community, who was deeply concerned about a government practice of spraying arsenic on pine trees to kill the mountain pine beetle, who eventually succeeded in forcing an end to that practice.

For those people who are watching tonight, and I am sure they are watching on CPAC as all Canadians do, I hope they see some promise in this bill before us.

I want to again thank my colleague for bringing it forward, and I look forward to the vote in the House of Commons.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2023 / 6:30 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from June 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-219, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

December 5th, 2023 / 6:25 p.m.
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Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to a private member's bill, Bill C-219, the Canadian environmental bill of rights, brought forward by the member of Parliament for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

Before I speak to the bill, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize former MP Linda Duncan for her important work on this bill in previous Parliaments.

I would also like to acknowledge that, much like the bill's former sponsor, the bill's current sponsor, the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, has dedicated much of his career to being an educator and proponent of conservation and environmental protection. I thank him for his important work in these areas.

Returning to Bill C-219, the bill proposes to recognize the right of every person residing in Canada to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to include this right as part of the right to life, liberty and security of the person. The bill also sets out a number of procedural rights. These include the rights to access information and participate in environmental decision-making, request reviews of federal environmental laws and policies, and access courts and tribunals for matters regarding the protection of the environment.

While the purpose of Bill C-219 and its proposals are intuitively appealing at first glance, upon deeper reflection and examination, they raise a number of significant legal, practical and policy concerns.

The government recognizes that environmental stewardship is essential for the well-being and prosperity of Canadians, and it is devoted to working with the sponsor and all members of Parliament to secure a healthy environment.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change has been mandated by the Prime Minister to follow the clear direction given by Canadians, to take bold, concrete action to build a healthier and more resilient future. More specifically, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change was tasked with recognizing the right to a healthy environment in federal law and introducing legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy.

We have taken action to meet these commitments. On June 13, a right to a healthy environment was recognized under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, known as the CEPA. With the passage of Bill S-5, work is under way to begin developing an implementation framework, which must be completed within two years of royal assent. It would set out how the right must be considered in the administration of the CEPA and, thus, bring the lens of a right to a healthy environment to the programs that the CEPA enables.

The government has also committed to making an environmental justice strategy a reality by supporting a private member's bill, Bill C-226, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice. Instead of introducing its own bill, and in line with the government's support of Bill C-230, the government reaffirmed support for Bill C-226.

If Bill C-226 passes, the national strategy would provide an opportunity to examine the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk, as well as to discuss how best to address environmental risks faced by historically marginalized communities.

It would help structure discussions on addressing these inequalities and discrimination, which are the root causes of many vulnerabilities. It would also complement other efforts that contribute to advancing environmental justice in Canada, even where the cause of environmental injustice or environmental racism may not have been directly identified or acknowledged. Supporting and advancing these initiatives is where our focus should be now, especially given the flaws in Bill C-219.

I will now turn to outlining a few specific issues with Bill C-219. Although both bills recognize a right to a healthy environment, the approach in Bill C-219 is at odds with the approach that was taken with Bill S-5, which is now in the amended CEPA.

I will first talk about the path we are currently on following the passage of Bill S-5 and then address how Bill C-219 clearly departs from it. As we know, Bill S-5 recognized that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment under CEPA, the cornerstone of federal environmental protection laws. The right to a healthy environment is a new concept in federal law. Given this, Bill S-5 included clear and robust provisions on the process to describe how this right would apply under CEPA and how it would be reported upon annually.

Bill S-5 proposed that the meaning of the right under CEPA be developed in consultation with Canadians and elaborated upon through a concrete implementation framework to ensure that the right is meaningful and tailored to the regime at hand. That framework, which is now under development, will set out how the right will be considered in decision-making. It will also describe how related principles, such as environmental justice, nonregression and intergenerational equity, will be considered. I believe these additional details are very important.

Bill S-5 provided a concrete path for clarity and greater certainty over time on what adding a right to a healthy environment to CEPA will mean. It also included related amendments that would support the protection of that right, built from established procedural rights and specific provisions for public participation, including public comment and notice periods and the right to request investigations into alleged offences.

While we are already on this well-considered path, which has been carefully studied here and the other place, Bill C-219 proposes a very different path. The approach in Bill C-219 is unclear. It would likely lead to uncertainty in its application and we would have to resort to the courts to resolve the issues. The bill recognizes the right to a healthy environment, which is still a novel and undefined concept, but it does not set out its meaning or provide a process, such as the implementation framework in Bill S-5, to work out the definition and how it applies. That very likely means it is the courts that will determine what it means in the course of litigation.

The right to a healthy environment in Bill C-219 is broad and applies to all federal laws, and it is difficult to predict how it would be interpreted by the courts. We must avoid environmental rights being so unclear that timeliness and certainty in federal decision-making are compromised and the right becomes a burden falling on litigants to operationalize.

The approach already adopted via Bill S-5 is different, and I will remind the House that it is also better. Our approach is centred on public consultations and proposing a concrete way to elaborate on the meaning and the content of the right through an implementation framework. It applies only to CEPA, the pillar of federal environmental protection laws. This is what an issue of this novelty and complexity demands.

If Bill C-219 goes ahead, we would end up with two different versions of the right to a healthy environment in federal statutes, one set out in CEPA through Bill S-5 and another set out in Bill C-219. This would result in two different framings of the right and two ways to implement it. The misalignment between the two approaches could hamper progress on this important and complex issue and slow down decision-making across government. If the main objective is to truly secure a healthy environment for Canadians, moving forward with the approach that is now set out in the amended CEPA is the only prudent approach. We cannot just suddenly endorse and bring in the new and uncertain elements of Bill C-219.

Bill C-219 would also make changes to the Federal Courts Act and the Canadian Bill of Rights. The Canadian Bill of Rights is not an appropriate statute for a new environmental right. As I said earlier, our government is committed to taking bold, concrete action to build a healthier and more resilient future with measures that are clear and effective. The proposed Canadian Bill of Rights amendment could provide neither clear nor effective guidance on this front.

The Canadian Bill of Rights only codifies pre-existing rights as they were understood in 1960. For more than 60 years, that has been its sole purpose. Its interpretation always refers back to those historical origins. With the proposed amendment, Parliament would recognize and declare, through section 1 of the Canadian Bill of Rights, that there “have existed” historical rights that have already included a right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

It is uncertain how courts would attempt to interpret this new but backward-looking right, what pre-existing content they would find in it and where they would look for it. Not only would the amendment be wholly unclear, but it would introduce significant uncertainty into the interpretation of the Canadian Bill of Rights itself.