UBC Undergraduate Research

Evaluating the bottom-up approach to constitutional change in Canadian environmental rights : strengths and weaknesses of environmental bylaws and the role of municipal leadership Ryczkiewicz, Catherine


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not recognize the right to a healthy environment. I argue that a bottom-up approach to recognizing the right to environmental health in the Canadian constitution will lead to more successful and meaningful changes than possible outcomes of other approaches, given the difficulties of constitutional change. The long-term goal of David Suzuki Foundation’s “Right to a Healthy Environment” 2014 Initiative is to inspire constitutional negotiation for environmental health rights, and in the short term, to generate awareness that Canadians do not have the right to a healthy environment. To reach these goals at the most local level, I have been asked to reviews progressive environmental bylaw’s strengths and weaknesses and evaluate the role of municipal leadership; this includes the lessons that can be drawn from them, in terms of how municipal bylaws or declarations can have cascading effects up levels of government and/or influence provincial or federal policy. Accordingly, I have conducted a literature review and expert interviews, which prove that environmental bylaws or bylaw propositions have both potential strengths (distinctive competencies) and weaknesses. From this foundation I propose, to those involved in bylaw implementation or revision, the following points will increase chances of success. First, create public education campaigns. A number of successful progressive bylaws, including the Toronto Pesticide Act 2009 and Montreal Sustainable Community Planning bylaw 2005, have included an educational phase as a first step. Second, gain support from strong political, social and/or financial institutions such as the Union of British Columbian Municipalities. By doing so, these environmental initiative will have a venue for voicing concerns, increase their abilities to initiate action, and will benefit from the expertise of staff within these organizations. Third, commission for cooperation from stakeholders. Cooperation may occur between various levels of government institutions within Canada, internationally or between non-governmental organizations. Cooperation may facilitate quicker responses, coordination and data availability. In addition, all experts stated cross-functional team cooperation was a key success factor to bylaw implementation. Lastly, to provide suitable resources and expectations; even the most progressive bylaw plan cannot be executed without proper resources and achievable expectations. On the contrary, bylaw weaknesses include systemic weaknesses in power structures (e.g. misaligned goals between municipal, provincial and federal governments and jurisdiction of municipalities); lack in the public’s willingness to participate in bylaw regulations; insufficient implementation and enforcement; budget limitations and responsibilities; and case specific obstacles, which should be acknowledged and avoided where possible. The latter bylaw strengths will increase meaningful change by aiding in the short-term goals of implementing progressive environmental bylaws or revising pre-existing bylaws and benefit the long-term goal of incorporating the right to a healthy environment in the Canadian Constitution. On the role of municipal leadership, I inquired on: 1) what motivates city and council to take leadership on a given environmental, 2) what they deem to be successful and unsuccessful when developing bylaws and 3) information on their awareness of any bottom-up successes, or in other words, proven cases of where a local authority took leadership on a given issue. Results show that role requirements, mandates and regional plans; community and environmental needs; best practice cases from other municipal bodies; and comprehensive and integrated approaches are factors that serve to motivate city council in local municipalities to take leadership on environmental health issues. In terms of bottom-up successes, most experts stated examples of bylaws, regulations or local initiatives within their municipality that have been given best practice status from other municipalities within British Columbia and other provinces. This research is intended to inform six Canadian communities with the “Right to a Healthy Environment” community initiative in 2014. Prior to informing these communities I recommend that the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) conduct an external analysis (e.g. the political, environmental, social, cultural, and technological context), be weary of public motivational factors (e.g. frame the initiative in a way that is clear for how it stands to benefit the public), and lastly, be open to a variety of solutions (e.g. success may come in the revision of a long-standing bylaw or forms other than new bylaw implementation). In pursuit of arguing for environmental rights in Canada’s constitution, I intend to stimulate further research on the possible resolutions to barriers within the environmental-health-related bylaw creation and implementation process; from identifying environmental needs and political and citizen interest and motivation, to implementation and enforcement at all levels of government.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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