Follow-up report to the Standing Committee on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: chapter 1

1 Introduction

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) is an important federal law for protecting the environment and health of Canadians. The primary purpose of the act is to contribute to sustainable development through pollution prevention. CEPA provides the legislative basis for a range of federal environmental and health protection programs. These include activities related to the assessment and management of risks from chemicals, polymers and living organisms, as well as programs related to air and water pollution, hazardous waste, air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions from industrial, commercial and transportation sources, ocean disposal and environmental emergencies. Through these programs, considerable progress has been made toward preventing pollution and protecting human health and the environment.

On March 22, 2016, the House of Commons designated the Standing Committee on environment and sustainable development (committee) to undertake a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of CEPA. Over the course of its review, the Committee heard from over 50 witnesses and received over 60 separate briefs. In addition, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Minister of ECCC) provided a discussion paper (discussion paper) to the committee for consideration, outlining the issues with CEPA that she suggested should be addressed to strengthen existing programs and help respond to emerging issues.

The committee’s 149-page report, Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, addresses many elements of CEPA and provides important guidance on how to improve the act and its implementation. The committee’s 87 recommendations range from strengthening authorities for controlling pollution, to incorporating the right to a healthy environment into the act, to improving the enforcement of CEPA, to addressing the environmental protection regulatory gap that exists on most First Nations reserves.

The Government of Canada (government) commends the members of the committee, and the witnesses who appeared before it, for their insight and their commitment to enhance the protection of the environment and human health for present and future generations of Canadians. The committee’s report and its recommendations reflect a deep appreciation for the importance of CEPA and a strong commitment to improve the act in order to support a healthy environment, healthy Canadians and a healthy economy. The government appreciates the positive approach and the constructive thoughts and ideas put forth by the committee.

The government tabled its response to the committee’s report in October 2017. The response committed the government to review each recommendation and to follow up by June 2018 with a report on actions taken and to be taken in response to the committee’s proposals, and to examine potential amendments to the act. The government has completed its review of the committee’s recommendations and is pleased to provide this follow-up report on the progress it has made in implementing the directions set out in the committee’s recommendations.

The government agrees with many of the committee’s recommendations and has already addressed some of these recommendations through improved policy and program actions. This report also describes the many areas where the government is committed to taking further action in the near-term. In addition, the government will work towards legislative amendments as soon as possible in future parliamentary sessions. Finally, there are a limited number of recommendations that the government does not support. This report provides a rationale for each of these decisions.

This report is organized into thematic chapters that reflect the main programs enabled under CEPA. Hence, the report does not follow the order of the committee’s recommendations. A table is provided in the annex that lists each of the committee’s recommendations and the section in this report where it is discussed.

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