South Okanagan-West Kootenay Member of Parliament Richard Cannings has introduced a bill granting Canadians the right to a healthy, ecologically balanced environment, with debate beginning this week.
Cannings' bill, known as C-219, seeks to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights.
"A healthy environment is an integral part of what makes Canadians proud of our country, and this bill would ensure that all of us have the right to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. Recently the government added the right to a healthy environment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act which deals with management of toxic chemicals,” said Cannings.
“My bill will extend this right to all other federal laws.”
On Wednesday, Cannings began debate on the bill in the House of Commons, explaining its history began with its original author Linda Duncan, a former longtime MP for Edmonton-Strathcona in Alberta. The bill died when an election was called, and Cannings hopes to revive it.
He said the bill would provide "a bundle of rights and legal tools to all residents of Canada," including, according to Cannings' statement:
- 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
- If necessary, environmental protection actions; and by extending protections for government whistle-blowers who release information relevant to health and environmental impacts
"Why do we need this? For one thing, Canadians want it. As I mentioned, in a recent poll, 92 per cent 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," Cannings added.
The bill, if signed into law, would apply only to federal jurisdictions and would not change provincial environmental law, or take any rights away from Canadian Indigenous peoples.
"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," Cannings said.
"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 of Commons] 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."
Debate on the bill will continue.