, 07.04.2019 12:59 PM

My latest: amend the constitution, save the planet

Want to save the planet? Amend the Constitution.

In the United States, such an amendment has been sought since 1996.   Here’s what it says: “The natural resources of the nation are the heritage of present and future generations.  The right of each person to clean and healthful air and water, and to the protection of the other natural resources of the nation, shall not be abridged by any person.”

That sort of statement exists in the state constitutions in Hawaii, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Montana.  But it hasn’t happened yet at the U.S. federal level.

Same in Canada.  In our constitutional rights document, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there are all manner of protections.  Section two says that all Canadians have the fundamental freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression and “freedom of the press and other media of communication.”  It also declares that peaceable assembly and association are fundamental freedoms.

Sections three, four and five proclaim and protect democratic rights.  Six gives us mobility rights within Canada, and the right to a livelihood.  Section seven asserts our right to “life, liberty and security of the person.”  Eight protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures; nine protects us against arbitrary detention or imprisonment.  Ten to 14 describe our rights when we are arrested or facing trial.

And section 15, importantly, constitutionalizes the notion that Canadians have “the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” – meaning no discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.  There are quite a few sections about language rights after that.  Section 25: aboriginal rights.  Section 27: multiculturalism.  Section 28: gender equality.

But nothing – nothing – about the environment.  When you consider, say, that mobility rights don’t matter so much when your part of Canada is on fire, or under water, that’s a critical lapse.  When there’s no air left to breathe, equality rights tend to take a back seat.

It can be argued, and has been, that section seven’s “life, liberty and security of the person” includes the environment.  In about 20 countries around the world, in fact, constitutional court challenges are presently taking place, in which plaintiffs are arguing that life, liberty and personal security are being infringed by inadequate, or non-existent, environmental protections.  

Last November in Quebec, a group called Environnment Jeunesse started a class action in Quebec Superior Court, seeking $340 million in damages – $100 per young person in the class.  The young Quebecois are arguing that the section seven rights of young Canadians were being violated because the federal government hasn’t done enough about climate change. 

Because, you know, it hasn’t.  

The Justin Trudeau government talks a good environmental game, of course.  With much fanfare, it recently insisted that it will ban single-use plastics.  And then, just a few days later, Trudeau is photographed by his own office – In Quebec! At a lunch with a group of young people, the aforementioned plaintiffs! – sitting at a conference table where plastic cutlery was in plain view.

The Conservatives have an environmental plan, too, but it has been attacked by its former leader, Kim Campbell.  The New Democrats have tabled something called “Power to Change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs.”  It says it’ll meet its targets before other parties say they’ll meet theirs.  But everyone knows the federal NDP will be unlikely to form government anytime soon.

The Green Party, as its very name suggests, is arguably the most serious about avoiding environmental calamity.  That is partly why Elizabeth May’s party has rocketed ahead of the NDP to take third place in recent polls – and why liberals and Liberals (like this writer) have donated to them, and plan to vote and work for them.

The Green Party’s environmental plan is the one that deserves the greatest scrutiny, because – if, as recent polls also suggest, a minority government is almost inevitable – it is the one now most likely to be implemented.  Elizabeth May will be the most powerful person in Canada, in effect, because she will hold the balance of power in late 2019 and beyond.

May’s plan calls for modernizing the national electricity grid; creating trades jobs by retrofitting every building in Canada; ending all imports of foreign oil, and using only Canadian fossil fuels; and pushing adaptation measures to protect agriculture, fishing and forestry from climate change.  It’s not bad.

To achieve it, or part of it, more than a minority Parliament is needed.  We also need a national consensus, one that can’t be diluted by lobbyists, self-interest, and the vagaries of election results.  If recent events have shown us anything, it is that there is a paradox at the epicentre of Canadian politics: we all care about the environment, but we all lack the means or the will to do something meaningful about it.

The Constitution, as Environnment Jeunesse has already figured out, is the way to address that.  If we are serious about saving our part of the planet – and polls suggests that an overwhelming majority of Canadians, from cost to rising coast, are – then let’s constitutionalize our collective desire.

Every other right and freedom is protected in there.  Why not the right to an environment, too?

 

20 Comments

  1. M.P. says:

    Interestingly, in international law norms of uis cogens, environmental crimes are really the only ones talked about besides genocide

  2. M.P. says:

    Interestingly, at least to me, is that environmental crimes are sometimes spoken about in the context of uis cogens – making no Charter amendment required. Granted this is more used for personal/identity based rights, but it is very arguable

  3. The environment is like Mom and Apple Pie to yank things up a bit. Everyone, including God, is in favour but when your job in such and such an industry — or your pay cheque — will take a hit due to environmental policy — or your taxes go up, well then voilà…

    People claim to be open minded but parochial self-interest — not the good of the planet — wins out every time.

  4. Cory Arsenault says:

    I actually don’t mind the greens’s Most recent plan but they have a bunch of other wacky policies that I couldn’t support. Like banning wifi.

    • The Doctor says:

      For some reason, a lot of individual Green candidates are way out there, and they seem to attract conspiracy nuts (e.g., 9/11 Truthers, Chemtrails, Bildergerg). I remember reading the personal statement from the Sunshine Coast candidate a few years ago, it was pretty nutty.

  5. William R Morrison says:

    Enough of this “save the planet” meme. Save our way of living, our civilization, our descendants’ lives. The planet is not in danger, and will survive with us or, better, without us.

    • J.H. says:

      Ahem,
      Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace: “The whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science. There is no climate crisis, there’s weather and climate all around the world, and in fact carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life.”
      & this;
      Word is McKenna is pissed, Lib mps telling her to her face they won’t campaign on the doorsteps for her Carbon Tax nonsense.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        J.H.,

        You know perfectly well that Moore was coopted quite a ways back. Funny, you forgot to mention that.

  6. whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

    In a perverse way, one almost hopes Michigan’s new Democratic governor is successfull in shutting down Enbridge’s Line 5, hopefully before the federal election, which would shutdown all the refineries in Sarnia, and leave Ontario and Quebec desperately short of gasoline and diesel for the foreseeable future.

    It would be a disaster, but I think I would enjoy it immensely.

    • The Doctor says:

      I personally wish environmental protesters would blockade roads, highways and gas stations. That way, at least we would have a very honest and direct political dialogue about this. Pipelines are essentially abstract, and therefore are this easy political target for environmentalists. If you’re a truly committed environmentalist and not a hypocrite, why aren’t you shutting down gas stations?

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      WSISYW,

      Not here. We have Valero just across the river.

  7. julian says:

    Hi Warren,

    Environment is, to me, a weasel word, a euphemism. Nature is the word that should be used.

    I look at the pictures NASA shares of outer space, and I see nature, not the supernatural. I don’t think working around the edges and using euphemisms in the face of an existential survival threat has been worth a damn in the big picture.

    Humanity emanates from nature, not the other way around. Anyone who believes otherwise is unfit for office.

    Keep up the good fight!

  8. Steve T says:

    All that will be achieved by putting environmental language in the Constitution is the enrichment of the legal profession for decades to come. Everyone with an environmental ax to grind, no matter how bizarre or far-flung, will lean on this new provision to launch a lawsuit, or mount a constitutional challenge to existing laws.

    The courts have proven, over many years, that they often discard logic and merit in favor of abstract interpretations of the Charter and the Constitution, because it serves their personal political viewpoint. We don’t need another reason for the courts to get clogged up with fringe lawsuits that are more about increasing prominence for certain lobby groups than actually helping the environment or the country as a whole.

  9. Paige says:

    Hi Warren,
    I thought it was all the empty virtue signalling (AKA hypocrisy) that had you up in arms against JT.
    How on earth can you pretend, even for the briefest moment, that amending the Canadian Constitution will have any measureable impact on the real sources of emissions in the world?

  10. Derek Pearce says:

    Well WK I guess this comes with the territory and there’s no happy medium. Rightfully criticize JT for his appalling treatment of JWR? End up with a bunch of typical Sun-reading climate change deniers as followers. It’s too bad the latter comes with the former.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Derek,

      I guess some people don’t mind being, quite deliberately, useful idiots…

    • Fred from BC says:

      ” End up with a bunch of typical Sun-reading climate change deniers as followers. ”

      That’s some pretty poorly-disguised bigotry there, Derek.

      • Derek Pearce says:

        Boo hoo, what’s inaccurate about that description?

        • Fred from BC says:

          “Boo hoo, what’s inaccurate about that description?”

          If you don’t already know, no explanation I could offer would be comprehensible to you.

          (…and why are you crying? Are you one of those overly-sensitive SJW snowflakes I keep reading about?)

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