Environmental Protection Act needs to be stronger
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In its current form, it’s badly outdated and is failing to protect Canadians.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.