Canada’s Endangered Environmental Laws

Peace and Environment News, January–March 2013
by Mike Buckthought

On December 14, the Senate passed another omnibus bill, Bill C-45. The omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 have seriously weakened Canada’s key environmental laws. By bundling so many amendments in two massive bills, the Harper government avoided any meaningful debate in the House of Commons. The omnibus bills made far-reaching changes to environmental legislation, including the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

  • Bill C-38 repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, which was passed in 2007 to ensure that Canada would implement a climate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On December 12, 2011, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Bill C-45 made substantial changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA). It is now known as the Navigation Protection Act. The bodies of water that are covered by the legislation are listed in Schedule 2 of the bill. The list includes 97 lakes, 55 rivers, six canals and the oceans. The vast majority of Canada’s lakes and rivers are not protected by the weakened legislation.
  • Bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act, by removing protection for fish habitat and allowing the Fisheries Minister to authorize water pollution. The Minister is given extensive powers to introduce regulations “authorizing the deposit of deleterious substances.” These regulations may specify the toxic substances to be released, and the bodies of water that may be harmed. If one lake is not large enough to hold the toxic tailings from a mine, it is always possible for the Minister to designate “places falling within a class of waters or places.” The quantities and concentrations of toxic substances may be specified by the regulations.
  • Bill C-38 repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). This was one of Canada’s key environmental laws. Under the CEAA, environmental assessments evaluated the long-term health and environmental impacts of proposed projects. Harmful impacts were identified, and alternatives could be recommended. Three levels of assessments could be conducted: screenings, comprehensive studies or review panels.
  • The CEAA was replaced by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). Federal environmental assessments are no longer required if there is a provincial process in place. At first glance, this appears to be a way to avoid duplication. In reality, it will clear the way for the approval of harmful industrial projects. The less stringent provincial reviews will not consider the complete range of environmental impacts.
  • There will be a dramatic drop in the number of environmental assessments. Under the old legislation, assessments were triggered if certain pre-conditions were met. Under the new legislation, most projects will no longer require a federal assessment. Assessments will be required if a project is included in a designated project list. The list was hastily established using “recycled” regulations, without any opportunities for public comment.
  • CEAA 2012 provides short time limits for the completion of an environmental assessment. An assessment must be completed within 365 days, or 24 months if it is referred to a review panel. The imposition of mandatory time limits threatens the environmental assessment process. With a compressed timeline, there will be fewer opportunities for the public to be involved. There will also be limited opportunities for researchers to collect the scientific data needed to adequately assess a project.
  • Public participation in some environmental reviews may be limited, because of new requirements that participants must be “directly affected” by a project. This could limit opposition to energy projects, especially in remote areas that are sparsely populated. With this restriction in place, someone who happens to live in Ottawa or Vancouver might not be allowed to comment on a proposed pipeline in northern British Columbia.
  • Bill C-45 created the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act. No environmental assessment will be required for the new international bridge linking Windsor and Detroit. The project is also exempt from any obligations under the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Navigation Protection Act.

To learn more about recent changes to Canada’s environmental laws, visit West Coast Environmental Law (, Save Canada’s Environmental Laws ( or Ecojustice (

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental issues.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 28, Number 1, January–March 2013, page 8.

A Funeral for Canadian Science

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

On July 10, 2012, hundreds of Canadian researchers and concerned citizens marched to Parliament Hill to protest the government’s unprecedented war on science. Protesters wore lab coats, or dressed in black to mourn the “death of evidence.”

At the front of a mock funeral procession, a black-robed Grim Reaper carried a scythe, symbolizing the budget cuts that have killed many research projects. Following behind the Grim Reaper, pallbearers carried a coal black coffin.

Many protesters carried placards with messages mourning the loss of important environmental research programs. People highlighted the federal government’s decision to cut funding for the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). “It doesn’t matter how much water you have if it’s all polluted. Save ELA,” read one placard.

The ELA is just one example of a research program that has been cut. Recent government decisions have seriously undermined our ability to develop sound environmental policies based on scientific evidence. “Canadians want science-based policy, not ideology,” said one placard.

The procession continued down Wellington Street, a river of white and black leading to Parliament Hill. Along the way, people chanted “No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.” A rally on the Hill featured speakers from the scientific community and non-governmental organizations such as the Council of Canadians.

“We are all here today to commemorate the untimely death of evidence in Canada. After a long battle with the current federal government, evidence has suffered its final blow,” said rally organizer Katie Gibbs.

“Between the sweeping cuts to federal science programs, the legislation changes that we saw in Bill C‑38, and the muzzling of scientists, the injuries to evidence have just been overwhelming.”

The speakers delivered “eulogies” criticizing recent actions of the federal government.

“The risks of living in a fantasy world at this point in history are very grave,” said Dr. Arme Moores, professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University.

Moores said the government appears to be “retreating from reality” at a time when there are serious threats to our water, food and the environment. “When countries engage in fantasy, it’s called state propaganda,” he said.

Another speaker criticized the government’s attempts to silence scientists, and recent changes to the Fisheries Act.

“The federal government has weakened national fisheries and environmental legislation, trivialized the relevance of scientific advice, and eliminated government scientific research of fundamental importance to the health of Canadians,” said Jeff Hutchings, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University.

“Freedom of expression is no longer a right enjoyed by Canadian government scientists,” he said. “When you inhibit the communication of science, you inhibit science. When you inhibit science, you inhibit the acquisition of knowledge.”

At a time when many species are threatened by climate change, industrial pollution and loss of habitat, it is essential to support environmental research. The death of evidence leads to the death of species.

Canadians will not be content to live in a country that turns its back on scientific research. Such an approach is dangerous, at a time when our survival is threatened by global warming. In future years, the Death of Evidence rally will no doubt be seen as a turning point. After years of budget cuts and the silencing of scientists, people are ready to speak out.

For photos, videos and background information about cuts to environmental research in Canada, visit the Death of Evidence website:

Mike Buckthought is a writer and environmental researcher based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 4, September–October 2012, page 1.

Cuts to Environmental Research

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

Following the July 10 “Death of Evidence” rally in Ottawa, the scientific journal Nature featured an editorial commenting on the Harper government’s cuts to research. “The sight last week of 2,000 scientists marching on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill highlighted a level of unease in the Canadian scientific community that is unprecedented in living memory,” the journal noted.

Over the past six years, we have seen an unprecedented attack on scientific research, with many cuts focused on environmental programs:

  • Budget cuts have hit Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and other government departments.
  • The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area will be closed. It is a unique research facility in Northwestern Ontario that has operated since 1968.
  • The federal government is axing funding for Canada’s Research Tools and Instruments Grants Program (RTI). This key program funds purchases of research equipment. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is holding one last competition, with reduced funding compared to previous years.
  • The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is losing $400,000 annual funding from NSERC. Thousands of scientists from around the world use the station, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
  • The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) ceased year-round operations in April 2012. This was a unique research station in Eureka, Nunavut, that played a key role in monitoring the depletion of ozone over the Arctic. The ozone layer shields us from ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer.
  • The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) published reports on climate change, energy efficiency, air pollution and other important issues. Its funding was eliminated in the recent federal budget.
  • Since 1961, the Kluane Lake Research Station has allowed researchers to study Yukon’s glaciers. Improving our knowledge of glaciers leads to better climate modelling. The station’s federal funding was axed. Without additional funding, the centre will be forced to close.
  • Layoffs at Fisheries and Oceans will limit the department’s ability to assess the environmental impacts of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. According to documents obtained by the Canadian Press, the department was not able to complete an environmental risk assessment for the nearly 1,000 streams and rivers that would be crossed by a pipeline. The department “has not conducted a complete review of all proposed crossings,” however “this work will continue.”
  • Environment Canada researchers are required to follow a restrictive media relations protocol. Scientists wait for approvals from bureaucrats that do not understand the research. Because of the cumbersome approvals process, journalists miss their deadlines and do not report on groundbreaking research. Some scientists have been directed not to talk to the media about their research.

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental issues.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 4, September–October 2012, page 6.

And They Call It Democracy?

Peace and Environment News, January–February 2011
by Mike Buckthought

On November 16, Conservative Senators defeated Bill C-311 (the Climate Change Accountability Act) with a vote of 43 to 32.

The climate bill was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of elected Members of Parliament. When it reached the Senate, Conservative Senators called for a surprise vote at a time when many Liberal Senators were away. According to media reports, the Harper government ordered Conservative Senators to vote against the bill at the first possible opportunity.

Bill C-311 was a Private Member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) on February 10, 2009. On April 1, 2009, the bill passed second reading with 141 votes in favour and 128 against.

The Climate Change Accountability Act incorporated recommendations of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It would have ensured that Canada commits to reducing emissions by at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, with reductions of 80% by the year 2050. These reductions are needed to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

Support for the climate bill was strong, with tens of thousands of Canadians signing letters and petitions addressed to Members of Parliament and Senators. An open letter supporting the bill was endorsed by over 40 organizations across the country, including Sierra Club Canada, Ecology Action Centre, Council of Canadians, David Suzuki Foundation, Équiterre and NUPGE.

What message did the government convey to the people of the world when it obstructed passage of climate legislation? Canadian negotiators headed to the international climate talks in Cancun without a credible plan to tackle global warming.

While in Mexico, Canada’s team targeted the emissions of other countries. They insisted that countries such as China and India should commit to binding targets for reductions. Meanwhile, the defeat of Bill C-311 ensured that Canada would not commit to deep reductions in emissions. Canada’s per capita emissions are much higher than the emissions recorded in other countries.

The Harper government engineered the defeat of Bill C-311, ignoring the fact that a majority of Members of Parliament passed the bill in the House of Commons. It was a curious move, considering that Harper campaigned on the idea of a reformed, elected Senate. Instead, we now have a Senate stacked with Harper loyalists. The Prime Minister has appointed 38 new Senators in all, shifting the balance in favour of the Conservatives.

With the defeat of the climate bill and a new Conservative majority in the Senate, we are left wondering: will the Senate now block any legislation introduced by opposition parties, implementing the dictates of the new king?

Viewed from overseas, Canada is jettisoning its principles in pursuit of the all-mighty petro-dollar. In an article published in the Guardian, George Monbiot expresses his dismay. He is witnessing, he says, “the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state.”

The defeat of Bill C-311 represents a serious setback for efforts to tackle climate change. There are economic consequences, too. Without strong commitments to reduce emissions, it becomes more difficult to justify investments in renewable energy. We need climate legislation with binding targets for emissions reductions, and a national strategy to invest in renewable energy and create thousands of green jobs in Canada.

Mike Buckthought worked as national climate change campaigner for Sierra Club Canada, 2008–2009. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 26, Number 1, January–February 2011, page 6.

Pedal for the Planet Reaches Parliament

Peace and Environment News, November–December 2009
by Mike Buckthought

Pedal for the Planet, Ottawa, September 15, 2009. Photo by Faris Ahmed.

Pedal for the Planet, Ottawa, September 15, 2009. Photo by Faris Ahmed.

On September 15, Pedal for the Planet riders hit Parliament Hill after riding across Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia.

The riders relayed a message from Canadians across the country: we need to stop Canada’s backpeddling on climate change. Canada must do its fair share.

At the rally on the Hill, we were joined by NDP Leader Jack Layton, Linda Duncan (NDP, MP Edmonton-Strathcona), Bruce Hyer (NDP, MP Thunder Bay-Superior North), Bernard Bigras (Bloc Québécois, MP Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie) and Francis Scarpaleggia (Liberals, MP Lac-Saint-Louis).

We heard some inspiring words from the riders — Malkolm Boothroyd, who cycled all the way from Whitehorse, and Martina Nowak, who cycled from Victoria. Nathalie Houle and Eugénie Capel spoke on behalf of the many cyclists who crossed Québec.

After the rally, cyclists joined a virtual world tour around Ottawa, a low-carbon journey to search for Canada’s missing climate action plan. We were welcomed by Wim Geerts, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Canada. He talked about how the Netherlands encourages cycling as a sustainable form of transportation.

We rode to Bangladesh and Tuvalu, countries hit by rises in sea level, and Costa Rica, which plans to go carbon neutral by 2021. We visited the European Union, which is taking action to switch to renewable energy.

We finished our ride outside the Embassy of Denmark. Deputy Head of Mission Jakob Henningsen talked about how cycling is encouraged in Denmark. In Copenhagen, almost half of trips to work or school are by bicycle.

What is Canada doing? We hope these examples will inspire Members of Parliament to create a climate plan for Canada. They can start by supporting the swift passage of Bill C-311, the Copenhagen Climate Bill.

The next night, Pedal for the Planet riders and Members of Parliament returned to the Hill for a special screening of “The Age of Stupid.” The film presents a clear warning: future generations are threatened by increasing temperatures, extreme weather events and rising sea levels. The September 16th screening was presented by Sierra Club Canada and Linda Duncan, MP for Edmonton-Strathcona.

We would like to congratulate all the riders and volunteers across Canada who joined Pedal for the Planet. People cycled thousands of kilometres, braving bears, blackflies and torrential rains on windswept roads.

A small group of dedicated volunteers and staff members spent countless hours in meetings, while most people were away on summer vacation. Without all our hard work, Pedal for the Planet would not have been possible. We would like to thank everyone for joining us.

Mike Buckthought is the national coordinator of Pedal for the Planet, a cross-country climate relay to support urgent federal action on climate change. Pedal for the Planet was organized by staff and volunteers from Sierra Club Canada, Oxfam Canada, Climate Action Network and other organizations across the country. For more information about Pedal for the Planet, visit

Peace and Environment News, Volume 24, Number 6, November–December 2009, page 3.

Pedalling for the Planet in Kingston

Wind turbines on Wolfe Island. Photo: Mike Buckthought.

Wind turbines on Wolfe Island. Photo: Mike Buckthought.

Pedal for the Planet riders rolled into Kingston on September 10th. The team in Kingston included cyclists who pedalled all the way from Whitehorse and Victoria, as well as people from London, Toronto and Ottawa.

Our first stop was Queen’s University. We focused on the tar sands with a teach-in by Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Indigenous Environmental Network. He talked about the devastating impacts tar sands extraction is having on First Nations communities. With contamination of the Athabasca River, he said, high rates of cancer are hitting Fort Chipewyan and other communities.

He stressed that exploiting the tar sands leads to violations of fundamental human rights. Producing dirty tar sands oil contaminates water supplies and dumps millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

After the tar sands talk, we headed over to the waterfront to catch a ferry to Wolfe Island. We cycled along the coast, the sky illuminated by the stars and the planet Jupiter. The moon was rising, casting a warm glow on the water of the St. Lawrence River.

The following day, we pedalled down some country roads to have a look at the wind turbines on the island. There are 86 wind turbines, in one of Ontario’s largest wind farms.

The blades whirl slowly, high above farmers’ fields. They generate power for people on the mainland, and generate millions of dollars in economic benefits for farmers and the township. Now the islanders are debating what to do with the extra income.

With finite supplies of oil and uranium, we are faced with a clear choice. We can continue sinking billions of dollars into the fossil economy, or move to green sources of energy such as wind and solar power.

After visiting Wolfe Island, I felt more optimistic about our future. The people of Wolfe Island have shown us that it is possible to transform our economy, making the transition to renewable energy.

Mike Buckthought is the national coordinator of Pedal for the Planet, a cross-country climate relay. This update first appeared in Sierra Club’s Climate Crisis blog, September 14, 2009. For more updates from Pedal for the Planet, visit

Peace and Environment News, Volume 24, Number 6, November–December 2009, page 2.

Climate Change — One Step Forward

Peace and Environment News, May–June 2009
by Mike Buckthought

On April 1, Members of Parliament took a crucial step forward in tackling the climate crisis. The Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill C-311) passed second reading by a narrow margin, with 141 votes in favour and 128 against. Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs united to back the private member’s bill introduced by MP Bruce Hyer.

The Climate Change Accountability Act will ensure that Canada adopts firm targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming. It follows recommendations of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC urges developed countries to reduce emissions by at least 25% from 1990 levels by 2020, and at least 80% by the year 2050.

The Conservative government has set a target of a 3% reduction by 2020, with no legislation to get us there. Canadians take pride in protecting the environment, but our government has failed to show leadership. Other countries are doing much more.

The 27 members of the European Union are taking action. The EU has committed to reductions of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, with deeper reductions if developed countries match its commitment. Norway and Costa Rica have promised to become carbon-neutral by reducing and offsetting emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the United States, the Obama administration is investing billions of dollars in renewable energy, and a comprehensive climate bill promises to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. On March 31, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the draft American Clean Energy and Security Act. It proposes deep reductions in emissions, equivalent to 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

Canadians can learn from the best practices of other countries. We need more incentives to encourage homeowners to install solar panels for heating hot water and generating electricity. We can invest in renewable energy and sustainable transport, to create thousands of green jobs and reduce our use of planet-warming fossil fuels.

With the federal government committed to inaction, it is up to opposition parties to pass legislation to tackle the climate crisis. Conservative filibustering delayed Bill C-377, an earlier version of Bill C-311. Although it was eventually passed by the House of Commons and referred to the Senate, Bill C-377 died on the order paper when an election was called in September.

With Bill C-311 having passed second reading, it will go on to the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee for further debate. With only months to go before climate talks in Copenhagen, Parliament has an historic opportunity. The Climate Change Accountability Act will ensure that Canadians do our fair share to stop global warming.

The costs of inaction are staggering. Unchecked climate change could lead to trillions of dollars in economic losses, and the loss of most of the world’s plant and animal species. Millions of people could be affected by droughts, famines, diseases and rising sea levels.

As Parliamentarians debate Bill C-311, they may think about how they will be judged by future generations. If they reject the bill, they will harm our environment and economic future. Supporting Bill C-311 will help set us on a path to a sustainable future.

What you can do: Contact Members of Parliament. Ask your MP to support Bill C-311, to take action on climate change.

For more information, visit Sierra Club Canada’s Climate Crisis Blog:

Mike Buckthought is Sierra Club Canada’s National Climate Change Campaigner.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 24, Number 3, May–June 2009, page 7.

PM should try copying these words

Toronto Star, October 6, 2008
by Mike Buckthought

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign has received worldwide media attention following the admission he copied a speech by former Australian prime minister John Howard. If only he would copy the speeches and policies of leaders around the world who are committed to taking action on climate change.

Canadians would be pleasantly surprised if he copied a speech by David Cameron, leader of Britain’s opposition Conservative party. Harper would say, “Since becoming leader of the Conservative party I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda.”

Echoing a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he would follow the advice of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Harper would say, “The report of the IPCC has once again made it crystal clear: climate change is man-made and is accelerating. The impact will be dramatic, unless we take resolute action.”

Merkel talked about the consequences of inaction: “Studies have shown that unchecked climate change is likely to result in at least a 5 per cent reduction and possibly even a 20 per cent reduction in global GDP. Effective action to protect the climate would cost a good deal less.”

During a speech in Tokyo, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden said, “I firmly believe that pricing mechanisms are needed to promote a sustainable society. Setting an appropriate carbon price is essential for the transition to sustainable energy use. This is something that is applied both at EU level, through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and nationally through Sweden’s own carbon tax.”

Putting a price on carbon is an effective way to encourage the transition to a sustainable economy. Countries such as Sweden and Denmark are leading the way. Sweden introduced a carbon tax in 1991 and its economy is thriving. In Denmark, thousands of jobs have been created, with many people working to manufacture wind turbines.

Canada’s manufacturing sector is well placed to make the transition, but we need economic incentives. Our political leaders must learn that climate-friendly policies protect the environment and our economy.

The recent debate on climate change has focused on the inconvenience of a carbon tax. What is missing is the sense of what is at stake — the devastating consequences of inaction.

But if we take action now, there is hope. The international community can come together to solve environmental problems. We can learn from the success of the Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer was threatened, because of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons produced by humans. Because the international community committed to taking unified action, the ozone layer is now recovering.

We are electing the government that will represent Canada in the upcoming international negotiations in Copenhagen. Will it show leadership when delegations from around the world come together to stop the climate crisis?

Our government has claimed it is showing leadership, but in reality, Canada is a laggard compared to other countries. Canada is ranked number 53 out of a list of 56 countries according to Germanwatch’s index, which measures the effectiveness of climate change policy. Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are now 29 per cent above Canada’s Kyoto target.

If Harper copied a speech by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he would take immediate action to terminate Canada’s abysmal record on climate change. He would say, “The rich nations and the poor nations have different responsibilities, but one responsibility we all have — and that is action. Action, action, action.”

Canada’s next government must show leadership, by committing to firm reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases. For the sake of future generations, we must take immediate action.

Mike Buckthought is Sierra Club Canada’s National Climate Change Campaigner.

Published in the Toronto Star, October 6, 2008.

Link to the original article.