Under Canada’s constitution, the responsibility for the protection of the environment is mainly divided between the Federal and Provincial Governments with the Municipal Government left fighting for even the slightest bit of authority.
Federal Government – This Government level has an important but relatively limited role protecting waterways, fisheries, and controlling the import and export of hazardous products. There are five main federal statutes involved in protecting Canada.
- The Canada Shipping Act – dealing principally with controlling the discharge of pollutants from shipping vessels
- The Fisheries Act – deals primarily in addressing the protection of fisheries habitats in both oceans and inland waterways
- The Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act
- The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
- The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA)
Provincial Government – The most important powers in environmental protection are exercised by the Provinces and it can vary drastically from Province to Province. For example, there are a number of Ontario statutes that, directly or indirectly, deal with the protection of the environment. For the purpose of this short discussion, we will simply stress that the most comprehensive of the statutes is the EPA (environmental protection agency) here in Ontario.
Here are the main structural elements within the EPA:
- Licensing requirements
- Codes and standards
- Enforcement mechanisms (administrative orders and prosecutions)
- Investigative protocols
- Penalties and fines
- Directors’ or officers’ liability
- Specific provisions dealing with spills, brownfields, or waste handling
Municipal Governments – Here we have the third level of Government in Canada that can provide environmental protection. Even though a municipality likely has the most intimate understanding of their local they have a very limited role in the protection of the environment. With their hands metaphorically tied Municipalities can, for example, pass by-laws prohibiting pesticides use within their jurisdiction and regulate sewage dumping etc. Municipalities should be taking more environmental matters into consideration when making land use planning decisions. There are numerous Ontario Municipalities where development has run rampant with no legal avenues to fight. Municipal Governments would do well to prescribe more brown field remediation and reduce the development of green fields.