McKenna’s Goals

Catherine McKenna, a lawyer and Member of Parliament from Ottawa (Ottawa Centre riding), was selected by Justin Trudeau to serve as Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

McKenna was born and raised in Ontario. She has a BA from the University of Toronto (in French and International Relations), a MA from the London School of Economics (in International Relations), and a law degree from McGill. She has no environment science or policy training per se. Indeed, she is a human rights/social justice lawyer. Thus, what she brings to this cabinet portfolio is not environmental expertise, but legal expertise. This is perhaps fitting in an era where so much of environmental policy involves a deep understanding of the Canadian legal system, and especially the constitution.

In her Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter, the Office of the Prime Minister asked Ms. McKenna to prioritize and implement these goals:

  1. Develop a climate change plan (with the provinces) that will reduce GHG emissions in a way that is both consistent with the Paris Protocol and sustainable economic growth.
  2. Develop a national emissions reduction target (with the provinces) that is flexible enough for provinces to design their own policies and receive federal funding for those policies
  3. Develop a “Low Carbon Economy Trust” with the Minister of Finance (this is fund the projects in #2)
  4. Focus on freshwater protection using education, GIS mapping, watershed protection, and research/development projects.
  5. Phase out fossil fuel industry subsidies (with the Minister of Finance)
  6. Work with Mexico and the USA to create a “North American Clean Energy and Environment Agreement.”
  7. Support investment in green infrastructure (work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities).
  8. Listen to scientists when listing endangered species on SARA and work to more quickly produce recovery documents.
  9. Set stronger air quality standards, monitor pollution emissions, and provide incentives (to the provinces) to create cleaner air.
  10. Review Canada’s environmental assessment process (work with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans & Minister of Natural Resources & Canadian Coast Guard). (See post below.)
  11. Expand and manage Canada’s National Park System, National Wildlife Areas, and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. And create greater access to these treasured resources for Canadians.
  12. Focus on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River Basin, and the Lake Winnipeg Basin. (Work with Minister of Fisheries, Oceans).
  13. Investigate the relationship between climate change on the Arctic marine system (working with the Minister of Science and the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans)
  14. Increases Canada’s marine protected areas by 10% of 2020.

Over the next five years, these are the goals upon which I will measure the success of McKenna as Minister of Environment and Climate Change. (However, we must keep in mind that goals are only that – a desired result; a plan or a strategy. Times change and goals might also have to change. Nevertheless, these are the goals Trudeau put forward to McKenna.) Let’s press play and watch Canada become a cleaner, greener, and more biologically diverse nation.


Rewriting Laws in 2016

The Globe and Mail wrote an interesting editorial today arguing that the Liberal Party should rewrite a number of laws in 2016. These laws include:

  1. Criminal sentencing reform (mandatory minimum and solitary confinement laws)
  2. Marijuana laws
  3. Bill C-51 (the Anti-terrorism Act)

And the list ends there. No mention of any environmental legislation, namely Bill C-38. Of course, the Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Economic Act, is not technically an environmental law, but it does function as such.

The book (Canadian Environment in Political Context) grapples with C-38 briefly in Chapter Six in regards to water. But it worth discussing more deeply here as there is a real opportunity for the Liberal Party to revoke or amend some of the provisions in C-38.

Brenda Heelan Powell from the Environmental Law Center does an excellent job explaining how Bill C-38, passed in 2012, impacts the environment. Here is a link to the overview. Essentially, C-38 made changes to

  1. Federal Environmental Assessment Law
  2. Fisheries Law
  3. Navigable Water Protection Act
  4. National Energy Board
  5. Canadian Environmental Protection Act
  6. Parks Canada Agency Act
  7. Canada National Parks Act
  8. Canada National Marine Conservation Act
  9. Coasting Trade Act
  10. Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
  11. National Round Table on the Environment and Economy Act
  12. Nuclear Safety Control Act
  13. Seeds Act
  14. Species at Risk Act

Yes, essentially, this one budget bill made changes to 14 different environmental laws/procedures. It was a devastating blow to environmentalists. The Conservative Party opted not to use Parliament to discuss and amend these separate pieces of legislation, but instead use a sweeping budget bill in a majority government situation to alter the environmental policy terrain across the country. Previously, these 14 pieces of legislation were all debated and passed in Parliament (some dating back 100 years). If the government wants to alter any one of these laws, it should open it for debate and deal with each law independently. The environment is worth the trouble.

The Liberal Party under Trudeau and the leadership of Catherine McKenna as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change has a real opportunity to shape and improve environmental policy in the next 5 years. Obviously climate change looms large and is understandably the main focus. However, these 14 laws are each – in their own way – directly related to climate change and each is important its own right. Thus, the Trudeau-McKenna government should carefully consider each piece of legislation changed in C-38. Unlike the Globe and Mail, I think all of these laws are worth rewriting in 2016 and beyond.

COP21 – A Few Thoughts

Chapter 11 of the book discusses Canada in an international context. An overview of past United Nation Convention of the Parties (COP) for climate change is provided. Since the book went to press in August 2015 there is only some speculation about COP21, which just took place in Paris (Nov 20 – Dec 12, 2015). So, what did happen in Paris?

A lot. And not much.

Canada sent more representative than ever before – over 300 people attended in an official capacity. The only country to send more representatives was France, and that was only because they were hosting the event! To make up for 10 years of metaphorical, and somewhat literal, absence at the climate summit, Canada sent everyone! Our Prime Minister went… and took Catherine McKenna (the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change) as well as Stephan Dion (the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, and past Minister of Environment under Prime Minister Martin). Trudeau also took the leaders of the opposition parties (Elizabeth May tweeted the whole experience) and the premiers of all the provinces and territories. This is a big deal since it is really the provinces that are responsible for the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector. Only the federal government can sign an international treaty, but in the case of climate change the provinces need to implement the treaty. So it is best to have them on board.

It is important to recognize that 195 countries did indeed sign an agreement. That is huge. At a time when there is so much to disagree about on the international stage, the fact that we can all come together and pledge to do something not just for ourselves, but also for each other, is significant.

So, what did Canada agree to at COP21? Officially, we pledged to cut our emissions by 30% below 2005 levels as of 2030. This was our “Paris Pledge” as submitted by the Harper government in May 2015. Minister McKenna did not spend much time focused on this target and has often referenced the need to create a reduction plan in each province that is not necessarily tied to a target.

Moreover, we need to keep it real here. No specific emission target is legally binding on a nation. That is to say, our pledges are essentially voluntary. Huh? Well, keep in mind that the UN is not a global leviathan. All countries are sovereign and no entity can force any country to do anything in a legally binding way. That is just the reality of international relations. Sure, there can be economic sanctions or other types of political sanctions (okay shamming) but there are no “legally binding” anything. Remember when Canada backed out of the Kyoto Protocol? There were no legal repercussions. Other than embarrassment, nothing bad happened. That is just the way the world works. So, all Paris Pledges are voluntary – don’t get too worked up about this.

And keep in mind the reporting and monitoring of emissions is legally binding. All countries have to do this – even developing countries. And emissions will be reviewed every five years to keep countries on track (starting in 2020). What does this mean? It means that Canada will have to report all its GHG emissions in an international arena. We will have to publically state what we are doing to cut emissions and what our progress to date has been. All countries will do this. What happens if we lie or if we are not cutting our emissions? See above. Shame and anger from other countries would be forthcoming. Trade or economic sanctions could be considered. But that is not really the intent. The intent of this clause is to keep everyone honest and on track. We want to have an open dialogue about earth’s shared future.

At COP21 developed countries agreed to spend at least 100 billion dollars a YEAR between 2020 and 2030 to help developing countries deal with any impacts of climate change. Canada is a developed country so we are going to have start saving some money to contribute to this fund. The Paris climate deal also encourages all countries to leave their forests intact (this is because forests sequester CO2 and help mitigate climate change). This is mostly a concern in the developing world where forests are being cut to make way for more profitable agriculture.

That is the crux of the deal. There is a lot there. At the same time, nothing is there – all countries have to actually implement their promises in their domestic arenas. The true test is in the implementation of this agreement. To this end, Prime Minister Trudeau has promised to meet with all premiers within the next 90 days to hammer out the hard details. How is Canada going to cut emissions specifically?

I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, check out these resources:

  1. Text of the Paris Agreement.
  2. Which countries have the most work to do after Paris?
  3. Paris Agreement as a “conceptual breakthrough.”

First Update to the Forthcoming Book

Canada has a new prime minister. The book (forthcoming November 2015) references the October 19th, 2015 election without daring to make any guesses. However, we can now say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Liberal Party of Canada won a majority government. For election coverage, see CBC, Globe and Mail, and National Post (if you want international coverage, check out the New York Times and the Guardian). The Liberal Party won 184 seats. There are 338 seats total so the Liberal Party has a clear majority of seats (but only 39.5% of the popular vote in an election where 69% of the population voted).  The Conservative Party won 99 seats (and form the official opposition) while the New Democratic Party won 44 seats, the Bloc Quebecois won 10 seats, and the Green Party won 1 seat (leader Elizabeth May held her seat).


I hope he is ready. 

(Photo credit: Hill Times)

Mr. Trudeau did not campaign on environmental issues. However, he did make a few promises (albeit somewhat vague promises):

  1. He will attend the UN Climate Summit in Paris this December.
    1. He will take the provincial Premiers with him to Paris to negotiate Canada’s national commitments (because the provinces are ultimately the ones that have to implement GHG emission reduction policy).
  2. He intends on creating a national standard for a price on carbon, but expects the provinces to decide exactly how they want to reduce GHG emissions (through some kind of tax (revenue neutral like BC or revenue creating like Quebec) or through cap and trade. Or, presumably, through some other method).
  3. 20 billion dollar investment in clean energy
    1. He plans to work with provinces to create and attract clean energy investments
  4. Increase Marine Protected Areas
  5. Invest in (scientific?) research
  6. Increase funding for national parks
  7. Work with the US and Mexico on a clean energy agreement (not sure how this jives with NAFTA and the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership).

Those are essentially the environmental commitments that Mr. Trudeau made while campaigning. Clearly there are a lot of details to work out.

I do not anticipate much in the way of new environmental laws in Canada (at least not byway of the federal legislative branch). However, I think the laws we have in place, such as the Species at Risk Act, are not going to be dismantled or threatened by a Liberal government (the way they might have been under a Conservative Party government).

In the coming weeks I will continue to update the book with regards to new cabinet ministers and new environmental commitments (or old commitments that come into clearer focus). Stay tuned!

Hello Readers!

Welcome to the companion website for the book Canadian Environment in Political Context written by Andrea Olive and published by the University of Toronto Press. On this website you will find updates to information in the textbook as well as blog posts about current environmental issues and policies!