Environmental health a key election issue and one that must not be forgotten by the next government

With the election only days away, at CAPE we’re thinking a lot about the connections between environments and health – and the legislation, regulation and policy that impacts these. And we have been asking our CAPE community to talk about those connections with MPs, candidates, media, friends and family. 

One of the critical pieces of environmental health protection for people living and working in Canada is the need for improved environmental health protection through Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) reform. Preventable toxic exposures continue to be a public health and environmental justice problem.

Harmful exposures disproportionately impact women, children, Indigenous peoples and people living in poverty, and other populations made vulnerable to adverse environmental effects for biological and socioeconomic reasons. Nearly 15,000 Canadians annually die prematurely from air pollution and lower-income Canadians are three times more likely to live in close proximity to sources of air pollution. 18% of premature deaths globally are due to fossil-fuel-related air pollution. Newcomer and racialized women often work in precarious conditions with toxic exposures and are disproportionately exposed to a great number of toxic chemicals. In utero exposures are a critical window of vulnerability in terms of the impact of toxic exposures on the developing fetus.

We need to update our cornerstone environmental protection legislation to address these everyday realities. 

The current government introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act on April 13, 2021, was moving us in the right direction. But the bill died on the order paper with the election call.

So we’ve been pressing hard for election promises to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) through the rapid reintroduction of an improved Bill C-28.

For whoever forms the next government, we will have to keep up our strong advocacy for CEPA reform and the reintroduction and strengthening of Bill C-28. But it doesn’t hurt to address some of these needs now in your conversations with candidates and colleagues.

After Bill C-28 was introduced, we asked for some key Bill C-28 strengthening measures along with our environmental health coalition partners. We want to see the right to a healthy environment unqualified – in other words not balanced with economic factors which might undermine health. We want toxic substances of concern prioritized in the act and assurance that substitutions are not made with alternative harmful substances. We need to see real-life exposures assessed, taking into account cumulative and synergistic effects of toxics with clear timelines on assessments. And we want enforcement provisions that will prevent, stop or mitigate harm where releases have contravened regulations in place.

There are additional elements that will make Bill C-28 stronger. And we will need to press on these when the time is right. But for now, let’s get this last push in before the election that CEPA Reform must be part of the healthy recovery we need from the Covid-19 pandemic and to secure our current and future health.

Health protections – whether through an improved CEPA, an end to all subsidies, public finance, and other fiscal supports to the oil and gas sector by 2022, including financial support provided through Export Development Canada, workers and Indigenous peoples as key members of all transition planning processes, or an end to harmful thermal coal exports – are critical needs from our next government. 

As the CAPE endorsed One Earth, One Vote initiative proclaims, “solutions exist and together, we can rebuild a more just society that is better for our health, the economy, and nature.” 

Many of you have organized debates, reached out to your MPs and election candidates, signed onto statements, written letters to the editor, hosted 100 Debates on the Environment events, and engaged your friends and neighbours. 

We now look to the candidates and party leaders who promise to implement strong measures including legislative action to reduce pollution, protect our environment and promote good health, today and in the future. And those who form our next government will need us to continue to keep them responsive to critical pieces of environmental health legislation, regulation and policy. 

We must hold them accountable for their promises. Our advocacy, adding the health professional expertise and voice to push for the strongest environmental health protection and illness prevention is the ongoing need ahead for a future healthy planet and healthy people.