Canada: Green Bill of Rights

Written by  //  March 7, 2008  //  Canada, Environment & Energy, Public Policy  //  No comments

March 07, 2008
Green bill of rights cornerstone of environmental handbook
Mike De Souza, Canwest News Service
OTTAWA – A Canadian bill of green rights is one of the cornerstones of a new federal road map towards environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s officials and opposition MPs were told Friday.
The message was delivered by leaders of the country’s 11 largest environmental groups who met with Harper’s office and other federal leaders to deliver a pocket-sized 28-page summary of their plans. The proposal – Tomorrow Today: How Canada can make a world of difference – recommended several new measures and policies for Canadians to address climate change, energy use, food production, toxic substances, water, forests and oceans, including a new tax of at least $30 per tonne on greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 that would rise to $75 per tonne by 2020.
“This is quite simply the most ambitious, the most comprehensive vision for environmental progress that has been produced in a generation, and we’re very pleased to be hear this morning to launch this document,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence at a news conference with the other groups.
They described their road map as a “shortlist” of the most essential federal environmental priorities with accountability near the top of the list through an “ecorights” bill that could restore public trust in the government.
“By enacting this kind of statute, the federal government would be able to earn the trust of Canadians on an issue where, right now, they have either lost it, or they are very close to losing it entirely,” said Will Amos, a staff lawyer at Ecojustice, an environmental law organization that was formerly known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.
“Canadians point to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a feature of their Canadian identity, and Canadians consistently point to a clean environment as another component of their identity.”
Although many Canadians might assume that their environmental rights are already protected, Amos said that there are gaps in existing federal laws that would be filled by a new green bill of rights.
In their document the environmental groups also urged the government to adopt a “precautionary” principle for addressing environmental issues by acting to resolve problems even when there is scientific uncertainty. The road map also calls on the government to ensure that it eliminates potential environmental risks for future generations in the same way that it is trying to eliminate the federal debt. Finally, it recommends that Canada should be a good global citizen by taking action at home, sharing best practices and ensuring that polluters pay the real cost of actions that damage ecosystems and communities.
“One reason we have entrenched environmental problems like poor air quality and accelerating climate change is that we do not pay the full environmental and social costs of the products and services we buy,” said the road map.
“Not paying for the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels gives automobiles an unfair competitive advantage over public transit; not recognizing the environmental costs that pesticides and fertilizers create makes organic foods appear more expensive than they really are; solar and wind power are clean, but must compete with coal whose deadly air emissions are not factored into the price of electricity.”
The document was released as federal MPs debated a confidence motion introduced by the NDP that denounced the government for not adequately addressing the threat of global warming. The motion, to be voted on on Monday, could trigger an election if adopted in Parliament where the opposition parties hold the majority, but the federal Liberals have said they will not support it to avoid a spring vote.
Environment Minister John Baird has said he’s open to improving government accountability, but wants to ensure that there are concrete actions to clean up the environment and not just talk.

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