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MP Cannings re-introduces environmental bills

South Okanagan-West Kootenay New Democrat MP Richard Cannings is hoping for better luck during the current session of parliament with three private members bills previously introduced.

Last month, Cannings re-introduced a bill in the House of Commons first proposed in 2009 by former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan, calling for a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights.

“She thought it was unconscionable that Canada was one of the very few countries in the world that doesn’t have the right to a clean and healthy environment entrenched in its legal system,” Cannings says. “About 170 countries have that right in their constitution or somehow in their laws.

“She drafted this bill, she tried it every parliament for four [terms]. It always seemed to get to committee stage, then there would be an election, so she never managed to get it through.”

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Cannings says when he was re-elected last year, Duncan phoned him and asked him to bring the bill forward again. “I was honored that she thought of me to do that and was happy to table that just before Christmas.”

Cannings says one of the difficulties private members’ bills face is the lottery that determines the order in which they are brought forward. He says he was fortunate to win “a pretty decent number,” 47th out of 338.

He says if the current parliament lasts three years, he has a good chance of having enough time to have the bill brought forward and pass through all the necessary stages. However, he has to convince enough fellow MPs to support it.

“Which is another big challenge for private members’ bills, especially substantive ones like this,” he says.

“I think as the years have gone by, there is more and more appetite for this kind of bill. Especially when you consider that we are in the minority around the world in not having this. When you poll most Canadians, they say yes they want this right. They almost think they already have it.

“All parties would agree in principle that Canadians have the right to live in a clean and healthy fully functioning environment. It’s only when you get down to the details that some MPs, some parties would have differing opinions. I’m pretty confident we can convince enough MPs to vote for this and have it pass.”

Cannings says if passed, it would not change the constitution, but add to the Canadian Bill of Rights, enshrining rights to environmental information and to bring environmental issues to court. He says while many of those things already exist under other forms of legislation, “it’s all very disparate.”

Cannings has also re-introduced a bill he first proposed in 2016 to restore protections various waterways had under the old Navigable Waters Act.

He says all Canadian waterways used to enjoy similar projection, but under the Harper government, that was reduced to about 80 rivers and lakes, including the Columbia River and Okanagan Lake. However, other water bodies in his riding were excluded, including the Slocan River, Slocan Lake, Christina Lake, Skaha Lake, Osoyoos Lake, Vaseaux Lake.

Cannings says the Liberals promised in 2015 to reverse that decision, but those waterways remain off the list. “This bill really is a reminder to the government that that task they promised to do remains undone,” he says.

A third bill Cannings introduced several years ago insisted that federal infrastructure should use building materials with the lowest carbon footprint. Although the bill made it through the House of Commons, it died in the Senate.

During the last parliament, it was reintroduced in the Senate but was derailed again by last year’s election. It has been reintroduced in the Senate once again. Cannings is hopeful it will return to the House of Commons this spring to be ratified and enacted later this year.

“Sometimes it takes a bit of effort and trying, trying again,” he says.

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