Let’s Rebuild Our Environmental Legislation

This is a guest blog written by Paula Boutis. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author’s, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of GreenPAC.

Meet Paula Boutis, environmental lawyer and member of the GreenPAC Board – she’s helping us jumpstart environmental leadership in Canadian politics. We asked her to reflect on how she became interested in taking care of the world around us.


Paula Boutis at the 2015 Green Living Show, photo by GreenPAC

My high school chemistry teacher saw it as his duty to ensure that when we talked about petroleum, we also talked about the environmental implications of the petroleum industry. I still remember my grade 13 final chemistry exam, where I wrote about the over 300 known pollutants in the Great Lakes, just having read an article about it. Before high school was over, I declared I would become an environmental lawyer. While there have been a few twists and turns along the way, I did wind up doing just that.


It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, that practicing environmental law — whether public interest law or for the private sector — meant working within the legal framework that existed, no matter how inadequate that context might be. And it’s in this way that I came to recognize the importance of the policy context and the political sphere in which that exists.


The last time the federal government in Canada passed any significant environmental legislation was in 2002 with the Species at Risk Act. Through the federal courts, we have seen environmental organizations make significant headway in trying to enforce this Act, where the government has failed.


But equally significant is that in less than 5 years, critical environmental legislation that had been in place for decades has been dramatically revised and significantly weakened. This includes the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environment