About Environment and Climate Change Canada


This information from the Minister’s transition binder was current as of November 2019. We don’t update this page as it is part of the historical record.

The Environment Portfolio for which the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is responsible consists of three organizations: Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), Parks Canada Agency (PCA), and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC). This book provides an overview of ECCC (further information for Parks Canada Agency and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is being provided by those organizations). Where appropriate, shared responsibilities and activities within the Portfolio have been highlighted.

Environment and Climate Change Canada, was established in 1971 under the Department of the Environment Act. Although officially established in 1971, many of the component agencies or branches that make up the current Department were established well before that date, for example, the Canadian Wildlife Service was founded in 1947 and the Meteorological Service of Canada in 1871.

The Department consists of 7,162Footnote 1  public servants spread out over the country in over 100 offices, laboratories and warehouses with the largest concentration of employees in the National Capital Region (44%). The Department is organized as a typical line department with a Deputy Minister, an Associate Deputy Minister, and several Assistant Deputy Ministers that have numerous Directorates and Divisions reporting to them. Although primarily a science-based department, ECCC staff positions consist of scientists, enforcement officers, meteorologists, economists, lawyers, administrative, communications, finance and human resource professionals.  

The Department of the Environment Act confers powers, duties and functions on the Minister which extend to matters relating to:

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change exercises additional authorities under other acts and regulations including, but not limited to, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the Fisheries Act Pollution Prevention Provisions, the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA), and several pieces of legislation relating to the protection of biodiversity and water (e.g., the Species at Risk Act). The constitutional authority of federal environmental legislation is founded on criminal law, as well as the principles of peace, order and good government and on federal constitutional powers such as international borders, international relations, trade and commerce, navigation and shipping, seacoasts and fisheries. Provincial environmental laws are based on provincial constitutional powers such as over municipalities, provincially owned (public) lands and natural resources. Territorial governments exercise delegated powers under the authority of the Parliament of Canada although the process of devolving province-like responsibilities from the federal government is ongoing with agreements finalized with the Yukon (2001), the Northwest Territories (2014) and continued negotiations with Nunavut.

As one of the Government of Canada’s most active regulators, the ECCC regulatory portfolio addresses such issues as toxic chemicals, air pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, effluent, migratory birds and species at risk. The Statutory Instruments Act provides the main legal framework for the regulatory process with the development of regulations within ECCC typically involving policy approval (either by the Minister or Cabinet), consultations with interested parties throughout the regulatory development cycle, preparation of drafting instructions, economic analysis, enforcement advice, legal advice and the drafting of the actual text of the regulation. Proposed regulations are then published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, to solicit input from the public on the text of the regulation. Final regulations are published in the Canada Gazette, Part II.

As was previously mentioned, responsibility for the environment is a shared jurisdiction among the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial governments (FPT). Federal-Provincial-Territorial relations are key to making progress on complex issues that do not respect borders both within and beyond the country. Climate change, water quality, air quality, enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, and protection and conservation issues, all rest upon good working relations with our provincial and territorial partners. These working relations, either bilateral or multilateral, are facilitated by formal engagement mechanisms at the Minister, Deputy Minister, Assistant Deputy Minister, and technical/working levels. Bilateral discussions are the most frequent and usually focus on specific issues unique to the province or territory in question.   

The main multilateral forum for FPT discussions is the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). Made up of the Federal, and all 13 provincial and territorial governments, the CCME usually meets once a year (last met in June of 2019) to discuss national environmental priorities and provide medium and long-term strategic direction on shared issues.

Ministers (both with responsibilities for conservation, wildlife and biodiversity (CWB) and for parks and protected areas) also meet on an ad hoc basis to discuss CWB issues with the last meeting occurring in June of 2018. Issues included discussions on the targets under the Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada, advancing park agendas and the endorsement of efforts to manage various wildlife diseases.

The borderless nature of environmental issues is also tightly bound with the economy including the movement of trade, people, capital and information. International cooperation thus plays an important role whereby Canada regularly works or partners with international institutions and non-governmental organizations either on a multilateral or bilateral basis. The United Nations and its institutions, bodies and agreements represent the primary fora for multilateral engagement with the international community although the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), multilateral development banks, as well as the Group of 7 and the Group of 20, also play actively.

Priority international issues include climate change, biodiversity, pollution, chemicals management and weather. Within the policy realm, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) serves as a key vehicle for advancing climate action initiatives including the Paris Agreement agreed to in 2015. Canada also shares its extensive climate change science expertise and contributes to further research with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

On biodiversity, Canada is a party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which is the main international forum on issues related to biodiversity and conservation. In addition, Canada is a Party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the International Criminal Police Organization’s (INTERPOL) – Wildlife Crime Working Group. As well as playing an important role on air pollution (Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP)) and chemicals management (e.g., Minamata Convention on Mercury), the Department is an international leader in the provision of meteorological services, sharing both expertise and data. As weather predictions beyond 2 days require international data, ECCC has been highly supportive of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

Recently, Canada has also advanced and supported environmental initiatives in the G7 and G20. As G7 President in 2018, Canada featured climate change, oceans and clean energy on the group’s agenda. Canada also championed efforts to prevent plastic waste from entering the oceans, address plastic waste on shorelines, and better manage existing plastic resources.

Bilateral and regional engagement is also an important feature of Canada’s international efforts. Within North America, Canada, the United States and Mexico work jointly on issues such as climate change, clean growth and sustainable communities and ecosystems through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). With our chief partner on environmental cooperation, the United States, a number of bilateral agreements have been struck including on transboundary air pollution, water quality issues and the protection of wildlife. The primary organization for Canada/United States bilateral transboundary discussions is the International Joint Commission (IJC).

Finally, Canada also has bilateral environmental relationships and agreements with the European Union (EU) and China and a host of other regional or country-specific free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) has yet to be ratified by Canada and the United States).

Domestically, the Department consults and partners with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national Indigenous representatives and industry organizations to ensure all perspectives are included in the development of environmental policies and regulations. Examples of said organizations include the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Équiterre, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Pembina, Nature Canada, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. These organizations provide different perspectives on environmental issues and their participation results in more rigorous legislation and laws.

Key to making progress on environmental issues are our Indigenous partners. In many cases, given their close relationship to the land and water, Indigenous peoples and communities provide critical insights and bring Indigenous knowledge to bear on issues thereby ensuring a more balanced and sustainable approach to local, regional, national and international issues. In addition, the Department works very closely with the national-level organizations and governments who help to advocate on behalf of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Among the most prominent of these partners is the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), which advocates on behalf of more than 900,000 people living in 634 First Nation communities. Its mandate is to protect and promote the social, environmental, legal and cultural interests of First Nations. The Métis National Council (MNC) is the democratically elected national representative body for the Métis Nation and represents the interests of distinct Métis communities from Ontario westward. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is the representative organization that protects and advances the rights and interests of Inuit peoples and culture across Canada. All three organizations have been key interlocutors on such environmental issues as climate change in the form of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change (PCF), biodiversity and environmental assessments.

In addition to the AFN, MNC and ITK, there are several other important organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada (ICC-C), the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) that have provided, and continue to provide, input into the full range of environmental issues at the regional, national and international levels.

Finally, industry associations play an important role in providing their views on the effects of environmental legislation and regulations to ensure that the important balance between the environment and the economy is maintained. ECCC engages with associations from every sector of the economy at the local, regional, national and international level. Their insights and unique knowledge of specific industrial processes and their highly competitive markets, is critical to developing and implementing regulations that both protect the environment while at the same time not hindering their competitiveness.  

While the legislative and regulatory tools have been well established within the Department, there are several key processes that both facilitate and support the establishment of environmental priorities and policies.

Chief among these is the formalized Cabinet Decision-Making process. The role of Cabinet is to secure agreement among Ministers, provide a forum for debate, and ensure that Ministers and the Prime Minister have the necessary information to take decisions.

New policy directions are usually communicated to Cabinet utilizing a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC), which lays out the background, rationale and recommended policy approach. MCs are signed by the responsible Minister(s) and are usually presented to a Policy Committee first, before receiving a final decision at the Prime Minister’s Executive Committee. Within ECCC, the Cabinet Affairs Division ensures the proper flow of Cabinet communications and that the necessary information is present for submission to the Privy Council Office (PCO) and later to the appropriate Cabinet Committee.

If a cabinet decision (or a Record of Decision (RD)) requires a further decision, such as funding for implementation purposes, the Treasury Board (an Executive Committee), reviews the item to determine if it is to be accorded the necessary funding for implementation. This Committee is also usually responsible for financial, personnel and administrative management, comptrollership and, approving regulations and most Orders-in-Council (OiC). Requests for decisions or authorities are usually communicated to the Treasury Board using a Treasury Board Submission (TB Sub).  

Also important is the Federal Budget process. The Federal Budget outlines the government’s fiscal, social and economic policies and priorities. The Budget process is managed by the Department of Finance who evaluates proposals based on funding for new government priorities, renewal of sunsetting funding and, funding to address program integrity issues.

The Governor in Council (GiC) and the Ministerial Appointments processes are key to a Minister fulfilling their mandate. In addition to making nominations in support of 28 GiC appointments, the ECCC Minister is also responsible for roughly 290 Ministerial appointments across 60 bodies (panels, committees, boards) such as the Species at Risk Advisory Committee.   

The Access to Information and Records Management process endeavors to make government decision-making more transparent to the public. Founded upon the Access to Information Act, citizens and organizations have the right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution.

Further details about these and other policy instruments, processes, and engagement mechanisms within the Department are found within the briefing package. Given the complex nature of many of these subjects, a detailed, in-depth briefing can be provided to the Minister and their staff at their convenience.

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