Canada is rich in nature. From coast to coast to coast, for millennia Canadians have depended on the environment for their livelihoods and ways of life. We are also rich in natural resources, such as oil and gas, minerals and timber.
For decades, Canadians slowly built up laws to balance industry’s interest in making money from Canada’s resources against the public’s interest in preserving the health and safety of their communities, health, jobs and environment.
But then industry began to complain that environmental “red tape” was getting in the way. Oil and gas, mining and other industry groups asked for changes to Canada’s environmental laws, such as reduced protection of fish habitat and fewer environmental assessments.
In 2011, oil and gas lobbyists suggested a widespread overhaul of Canada’s environmental laws and regulations related to energy regulation, environmental assessment and environmental protection. Referencing the National Energy Board Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Species at Risk Act, Fisheries Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, they called the goal of prohibiting harm “out-dated” and recommended that environmental laws focus instead on enabling outcomes.
Half a year later, the government granted industry’s requests. In 2012 it enacted omnibus “budget” bills C-38 and C-45, repealing or weakening many of Canada’s oldest and most important environmental laws.
- Replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with the much weaker CEAA 2012, which scrapped over 3,000 environmental reviews, restricts what gets considered in assessments and imposed barriers on public participation.
- Amended the Fisheries Act to weaken fish habitat protection, remove protection of some species of fish and broaden government’s powers to allow harm to fish and their habitat.
- Gave the National Energy Board oversight of environmental assessments of major energy and pipeline projects.
- Changed the Navigable Waters Protection Act to the Navigation Protection Act, lifting legal protection of over 99% of Canada’s lakes and rivers (want to know if a lake or river near you kept its protection? If it’s not on the Schedule, its protection is gone. Hint: if you live on Vancouver Island, you can give up now – the answer is no).
- Repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, Canada’s only law requiring it to set mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets.
- Amended the Species at Risk Act by removing the mandatory time limits on permits allowing impacts to threatened and endangered species.
The rollbacks have continued. In 2014, the government proposed regulations that would remove the need for fish farms to obtain permits before dumping aquatic drugs and pesticides into wild fish habitat. That December, it enacted omnibus budget Bill C-43, making changes to the Canada Marine Act that weaken environmental protections from and public oversight of projects on federal port lands.