Two Decades of Decline

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

Canada used to be a world leader in environmental law.

Canadian approaches to environmental problems were seen as a model and used to set standards in other countries.1 Canadian diplomats and politicians led the early international movements to counter climate change and played fundamental roles in the establishment of environmental principles in international law.2 For young scientists entering their profession and wanting to make a contribution, the federal government was the place to be.3


However, after two decades of neglect and decline, Canadian environmental legislation has become vestigial and Canada’s international reputation is waning.4

In the 70s, public concerns surrounding acid rain, smog, and industrial pollution decisively promoted environmental law reform; community groups such as Pollution Probe successfully advocated for and facilitated the adoption of environmental legislation.5 In 1974, the Berger Inquiry set internationally acclaimed standards for public participation and emphasized the need to consider the cumulative environmental impacts of future development.6


This environmental progress continued in the 80s. The Fisheries Act was amended and became a very strong anti-pollution safeguard in 1985. In 1988, five environmental protection acts were combined and streamlined to create the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which was a comprehensive ‘cradle to grave’ regulatory framework for the management of toxic substances. In the same year, amendments to the Canada National Parks Act included a mandate to maintain ecological integrity and more than doubled the size of federally protected areas.


The Green Plan, introduced in 1990, was intended to be a 5-year environmental action plan to guide federal spending.7 In 1992, Parliament firmly grounded the federal environmental assessment process by passing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.