En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act needs to be stronger

Toronto Star - - OPINION - DAVID SUZUKI

What a start to the fall it’s been. Sev­eral high-pro­file en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues have the fed­eral govern­ment’s at­ten­tion, and right­fully so — from cli­mate change to species at risk and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment, to name a few.

But a ma­jor de­ci­sion awaits the ap­proval of en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Catherine McKenna, and al­though it is per­haps not as hot a topic as cli­mate change, it has the po­ten­tial to save our coun­try bil­lions of dol­lars and thou­sands of lives every year.

I’m re­fer­ring to the 87 rec­om­men­da­tions that the house stand­ing com­mit­tee on en­vi­ron­ment and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment made to strengthen Canada’s pri­mary law gov­ern­ing pol­lu­tion and the use of toxic chem­i­cals: the Cana­dian En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act.

By Oct. 13, McKenna will ad­vise cab­i­net on whether to im­ple­ment these rec­om­men­da­tions and cre­ate a bill to amend the act.

Why is im­prov­ing the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act im­por­tant?

In its cur­rent form, it’s badly out­dated and is fail­ing to pro­tect Cana­di­ans. The proof? A re­cent Health Canada re­port found that 90 per cent of Cana­di­ans have un­ac­cept­able lev­els of hor­mone-dis­rupt­ing chem­i­cals in their sys­tems, and oth­ers that de­crease male fer­til­ity.

An es­ti­mated 7,700 peo­ple in Canada die pre­ma­turely from causes re­lated to poor air qual­ity.

Canada ranks 25th among rich coun­tries on chil­dren’s well-be­ing, in part be­cause of our fail­ure to im­prove air qual­ity. Now for the good news. The rec­om­mended re­vi­sions to the act call for stronger air-qual­ity stan­dards and emis­sions mon­i­tor­ing — key com­po­nents of McKenna’s man­date as our min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment and cli­mate change.

Based on a year­long re­view of the act, these rec­om­men­da­tions fo­cus on im­prov­ing air- and wa­ter-qual­ity stan­dards, toxin lev­els in con­sumer prod­ucts, pro­tec­tion for vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ties, en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and, ul­ti­mately, the right to a healthy en­vi­ron­ment. If im­ple­mented, they would de­liver far-reach­ing health ben­e­fits. It’s no sur­prise that many peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions from the health and med­i­cal sec­tors, academia and be­yond have en­dorsed them.

This is not only what’s best for the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and our health; it’s also what’s best for the econ­omy. A study by the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment shows pol­lu­tion alone costs Canada more than $39 bil­lion a year.

The idea that all peo­ple de­serve the right to a healthy en­vi­ron­ment is noth­ing new. More than 110 coun­tries grant this right to their cit­i­zens, but not Canada. Since 2014, more than 100,000 vol­un­teers for the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion and Eco­jus­tice’s Blue Dot move­ment have en­cour­aged 158 Cana­dian mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties (rep­re­sent­ing nearly half of our coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion) to pass res­o­lu­tions rec­og­niz­ing their cit­i­zens’ en­vi­ron­men­tal rights. What is Canada wait­ing for? As cit­i­zens, we look to our elected of­fi­cials to pro­tect us and our fam­i­lies from toxic chem­i­cals and other threats we can’t see. But the cur­rent sys­tem is clearly not work­ing.

If McKenna gives the rec­om­men­da­tions the green light, mem­bers of Par­lia­ment would have the op­por­tu­nity to de­cide whether this is in the in­ter­est of the con­stituents they rep­re­sent and whether they should have the right to a healthy en­vi­ron­ment. Our fed­eral govern­ment claims to be com­mit­ted to demo­cratic ideals, so why not put this to a vote?

Time is run­ning out to com­plete this work be­fore the next elec­tion cy­cle ramps up. If we miss this op­por­tu­nity, it could be an­other three years or more be­fore we get an­other chance.

That could mean an­other 23,000 pre­ma­ture deaths, and more than $100 bil­lion in lost tax­payer money.

It would be a tragedy to al­low this win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to close.

Fu­ture gen­er­a­tions — in­clud­ing my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and yours — are re­ly­ing on McKenna to act in their best in­ter­ests. We can only hope she says Yes to #fixCEPA, help­ing lead us to­ward a safer, sus­tain­able fu­ture. David Suzuki is a sci­en­tist, broad­caster, au­thor and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion.

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