The Constitutional Allocation of Environmental Responsibilities and Interjurisdictional Coordination

AuthorJamie Benidickson
Although pollution of Canada’s lakes and rivers was actively under dis-
cussion in the Confederation era, envi ronment is not specif‌ically men-
tioned in the documentation that form ally established the constitutiona l
framework. There was therefore no explicit assignment of responsibil-
ity for environmental law to either the provinces or the federal gov-
ernment . According ly, constitutional authorit y over the env ironment
is divided on the basi s of a number of heads of power, essentially as
formulated at the time of Confederation in what is now known a s the
Constitution Act, 1867. In Friend s of the Oldman River Society v Canada
(Minister of Transport),1 La Forest J of the Supreme Court of Canada
discussed t he diff‌iculty these arrangements present for those who seek
to identify and allocate responsibility for environmental matter s in the
Canadian process of constitutional adjudication:
The environment, as under stood in its generic sens e, encompasses
the physical, economic and so cial environment touchi ng several of
the heads of power as signed to the respective levels of gover nment . . . .
It must be recognized t hat the environment i s not an independ-
ent matter of legislat ion under the Constitution Act , 1867 and that it
is a constitutiona lly abstruse m atter which does not comfortably f‌it
within t he existing div ision of powers without considerable overlap
and uncertainty.2
Justice La Forest then emphasized the necessity of linki ng environ-
mental initiatives at either the federal or the provincial level to an exi st-
ing head of power, under the Constitution Act, further noting that “the
extent to which environmental concerns may be taken into account
in the exercise of a power may var y from one power to another.” As
an example, he indicated that t he federal government’s environmental
authority in relation to the man agement of f‌isheries, a resource, will
not necessarily corre spond with the environmenta l role permitted in
association with federal constitutional power over such activities as
navigation or railways.
The foregoing conf‌irms that responsibility for important environ-
mental questions has not been a llocated with the level of constitutional
certainty often t hought to be desirable from the perspective of legis-
lators, policy-makers, and anyone seeking to ensure governmental
accountability in this f‌ield. This is partly a consequence of the original
omission dating from 1867, but it is also a result of the processes of
constitutional interpretat ion and of the changing perceptions of the
nature of environmental problems and appropriate policy responses.
Al Lucas write s, for example, that it is “constitutionally meaningless”
to attempt to determine conclusively whether the federal or the prov-
incial government has jur isdiction over air pollution. An answer to the
question would, he explains, “depend not only on factual matters such
as the source, nature and consequences of particular air pollution, but
also on the precise form and scope of any law aimed at it.”3
This is a useful rem inder that constitutional ana lysis in Canada
requires one to determine or specify the subject of the allocation or the
specif‌ic matter one wishes a p articular level of government to regulate.4
One might be concerned with the ava ilability of a specif‌ic regul atory
2 Ibid at para 86. See, i n addition, the observat ion of the International Cour t of
Justice in Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapon s, [1996] ICJ Rep 226
at para 29 that “the e nvironment is not an abstract ion but represents the livi ng
space, the qual ity of life and the very healt h of human beings, includin g genera-
tions unbor n.
3 AR Lucas, “Har monization of Federal and Prov incial Environment al Policies:
The Changing L egal and Policy Framework” in JO Saunders, e d, Managing
Natural Resources in a Federal State: Essays from th e Second Banff Conference on
Natural Resources Law (Toronto: Carswell, 1986) 33 at 34.
4 D Gibson, “Environm ental Protection and Enha ncement under a New Constitu-
tion” in SM Beck & I Ber nier, eds, Canada and the New Consti tution: The Unf‌in-
ished Age nda, vol 2 (Montreal: In stitute for Research on Public Polic y, 1983) 113
at 1 17–23.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT