Proposed Environmental Bill of Rights includes whistleblowing protection for Alberta workers

Capping a series of related reports on the topic , the Alberta Environment Law Centre published  Environmental Rights in Alberta: An annotated Environmental Bill of Rights for Alberta  in March. The report consists  of model provisions for a statute, along with annotations providing background information.  Amongst the proposed provisions  is protection from reprisals for employees (Whistleblower protection) – which would expand protection from reprisals beyond the existing Alberta legislation, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower) Protection Act,  which protects government employees only.

To encourage broad public  participation on environmental issues, the report also addresses the issue of Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP suits) –  “A SLAPP suit is a claim for monetary damages against individuals who have dealt with a government body on an issue of public interest or concern. It is a meritless action filed by a plaintiff whose primary goal is not to win the case but rather to silence or intimidate citizens who have participated in proceedings regarding public policy or public decision making.”

boyd cover the rights of natureFrom the introduction:  “It should be noted at the outset that the Environmental Law Centre drew greatly from David Boyd’s enormous academic contributions in this area. In particular, his article Elements of an Effective Environmental Bill of Rights was an invaluable resource in designing our model EBR” .  Boyd’s most recent book is  The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution that Could Save the World (Toronto: 2017, ECW Press).

Labour activists raising environmental justice issues in Canada’s climate change policy

ourtimes cover-Chris JawaraThe featured article in the Winter 2018 issue of Our Times is  “A Green Economy for All” , which describes the action-research project Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities: An Environmental Justice Perspective.   The ultimate goal: to equip Black trade unionists and racialized activists in Canada with the tools they need to influence the public policy debate over climate change, to ensure that the new green economy does not look the same as the old white economy.   With important inspiration from the Idle No More movement and the Indigenous experience in Canada, the project began with research into what has already been written about environmental racism in Canada, along with  a participatory social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #EnvRacismCBTUACW,  to solicit more information about lived experience.  The project has now reached its second phase, designing and facilitating workshops to develop activism around the issue.  The first of these workshops  was presented to the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) in December 2017.  Facilitation questions, case studies and workshop information will be made publicly available, with the goal of engaging other social and political activists, as well as the labour movement.

The Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities  project was launched in 2017 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project at York University,  in collaboration with Coalition of Black Trade Unionists , and is being led by Chris Wilson, Ontario Regional Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and  PSAC Ontario union negotiator Jawara Gairey.

“A Green Economy for All”  also mentions the work of the Toronto Environmental Alliance , which produced a map of toxic concentrations in the city in 2005, and the forthcoming book  There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities,  which highlights the grassroots resistance against environmental racism in Nova Scotia, and is written by Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University  and  Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (The ENRICH Project).

 

Manitoba joins the Pan-Canadian Framework, leaving Saskatchewan the odd-man-out

Facing a deadline of February 28 to qualify for approximately $67 million in federal funding through the  Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the province of Manitoba announced on February 23 that it will sign on to the Framework agreement.  However, the province will not compromise on its flat $25-a-tonne carbon price, as outlined in its Made-in-Manitoba climate policy document (October 2017).  Manitoba’s letter announcing its adoption of the Pan-Canadian Framework is here .  The federal government’s letter welcoming  Manitoba is here , stating that Manitoba will only be in compliance with the carbon pricing provisions until 2019. Ottawa has stated that it will review each province’s carbon price plan every year starting in 2019, thus postponing until then any further conflict over the federal standard of a $50 per tonne carbon price . Details of the $2Billion Low Carbon Economy Fund, for which Manitoba now qualifies,are here.

According to a CBC report (Feb. 26), Saskatchewan is now the only province not part of the Pan-Canadian Framework, and the federal government is “just waiting” and hoping that they will commit.  New Premier Scott Moe, so far, is holding to the policies outlined in Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy, released in December 2017 under previous Premier Brad Wall – a strong opponent of a carbon tax.

B.C. Auditor General reports on B.C. climate policies; B.C. Budget only begins to answer the concerns

B.C. Budget 2018  was released on February 20, highlighting a “made-in-BC child care plan, a comprehensive housing plan and record levels of capital investment.” An 8-page Highlights summary is here. The Budget was released just two days after the B.C. Auditor General’s report,  Managing Climate Change Risks: An Independent audit, which found it unlikely that British Columbia will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target and is off track to meet its 2050 target. According to the Auditor General, the existing Climate Adaptation Strategy has not been updated since it was written in 2010, leaving the province without clear priorities, timelines or assignment of responsibilities.  In addition, the Auditor General states that B.C. is not prepared for climate risks such as rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of wildfires.  A summary of the Auditor General’s report appeared in The Tyee on February 20.

How will the Budget help to meet the shortcomings of the climate change file?  The Pembina Institute states “B.C. budget = good news for families, businesses, and climate” , giving credit for investments in wildfire preparedness, energy-efficient social housing, and carbon-tax rebates for lower income households, yet calling for a clearer “road map” for energy and low carbon targets. (The Highlights document says that the government will invest a further $72 million in community resilience and recovery, and rural development, to help survivors of the 2017 wildfire season). The Tyee also highlighted the need for more vision and ambition in “NDP Told to Step Up Game on the Environment” (Feb. 22).   The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) describes the proposals for new incentives for large industrial emitters in “BC budget unveils support for industry to prevent ‘carbon leakage’”  . The David Suzuki Foundation response commends investments in transit, but criticizes the failure to extend the carbon tax to include methane gas. And DeSmog blog notes the absence of discussion in Budget 2018 of the single largest publicly funded project in the province – the Site C Dam.

National Energy Board is a casualty of Canada’s new legislation for environmental assessment

On February 8, following 14 months of consultation and review, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change introduced the mammoth Bill C-69 An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts  . The government press release from Environment and Climate Change Canada highlights these talking points about the proposed legislation-  It will:  Restore public trust through increased public participation; Included transparent, science-based decisions; Achieve more comprehensive impact assessments by expanding the types of impacts studied to include health, social and economic impacts, as well as impacts on Indigenous Peoples, over the long-term. Also, it promises  “One project, one review” – through a new Impact Assessment Agency, (replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) which will be the lead agency, working with a new Canadian Energy Regulator (replacing the National Energy Board), as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Offshore Boards.  Further, it will make decisions timely; Revise the project list; Protect water, fish and navigation ; and Increase funding.  The detailed government  explanation of the changes  is here ; other summaries appeared in the National Observer in “ McKenna unveils massive plan to overhaul Harper environmental regime”  ; “Ottawa to scrap National Energy Board, overhaul environmental assessment process for major projects”   in CBC News; and in the reaction by The Council of Canadians, which expresses reservations about the protection of navigable waters, and these “Quick Observations”:
“1- the current industry-friendly Calgary-based National Energy Board would be replaced by a proposed Calgary-based (and likely industry-friendly) Canadian Energy Regulator
2- it includes the ‘one project, one review’ principle as demanded by industry
3- assessments of major projects must be completed within two years, a ‘predictable timeline’ also demanded by industry
4- the bill notes the ‘traditional knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada’ but does not include the words ‘free, prior and informed consent’, a key principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
5- McKenna said that no current projects (including the Kinder Morgan pipeline which crosses more than 1,300 water courses) would be sent back to ‘the starting line’
6- the government is seeking to implement the law by mid-2019.”

An overview of other reaction appears in   “New Federal Environmental Assessment Law Earns Praise from Climate Hawks, Cautious Acceptance from Fossils” from the Energy Mix.  Reaction from West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) is here ; and from  Environmental Defence here .  The Canadian Environmental Law Association sees some forward progress but warns that “the Impact Assessment Act is marred by a number of serious flaws that must be fixed in the coming months.”    Reaction from the Pembina Institute says “Today’s legislation improves the federal assessment process by centralizing authority for impact assessment under a single agency; providing a broader set of criteria for assessing projects including impacts to social and health outcomes; and removing the limitations on public participation that were put in place in 2012…. Building on today’s legislation, we would like to see progress towards the establishment of an independent Canadian Energy Information Agency to ensure that project reviews include Paris Agreement-compliant supply and demand scenarios for coal, oil and gas.”

Companion legislation, also the product of the lengthy Environmental Regulation Review, was introduced on February 6, Bill C-68 An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence  (Press release is here ; there is also a Backgrounder comparing the old and new legislation). Most importantly, Bill C-68 restores a stronger protection of fish and fish habitat – the HADD provision – to the definition used before the 2012 amendments by the Harper government. (HADD = the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat).  Reaction is generally very favourable:   The David Suzuki Foundation says : “The most important changes we were looking for are part of these amendments” and West Coast Environmental Law says that the proposed legislation   “meets the mark”.  Reaction is also favourable from the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax . And from the Alberta Environmental Law Centre, some background in “Back to what we once HADD: Fisheries Act Amendments are Introduced” .

no consentAnd finally, where does the new environmental assessment process leave Canada’s Indigenous people?  The new legislation includes the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Committee and requires that an expert on Indigenous rights be included on the board of  the new Canadian Energy Regulator body, according to a CBC report, “Indigenous rights question remains in Ottawa’s planned environmental assessment overhaul” . Minister McKenna is also quoted as saying the government will “try really hard” to conform to the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples   – a statement that is not satisfactory to some Indigenous leaders.    See “Indigenous consultation and environmental assessments” (Feb. 7)  in Policy Options for a discussion of the issue of “free, prior and informed consent”.  On February 7, Private member’s Bill C-262, an Act to Harmonize Canada’s Laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed 2nd reading in the House of Commons.