At the time this article was
written Moe Sihota represented Esqumalt in the British Columbia Legislative
Assembly and was Minister of Environment, Lands and parks.
Environmental protection is one
of the most pressing issues facing legislators across Canada. Nowhere is this
more true than in British Columbia. This article looks at some legislative
initiatives in that province.
When this government came to power
in 1991, the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) was responsible
for over 20 Acts that related in some way to environmental management. It was
clear that many of these Acts needed review and revision to ensure a solid
legislative foundation for the development of innovative policies and programs
and to meet emerging environmental challenges. An Environmental Action Plan was
created to guide the process of legislative renewal and since 1991, the
government has achieved many of the goals set out in the Action Plan including
the introduction of several major legislative reforms. These range from
amendments to the Land Title Act, the Wildlife Act, the Water Act, and the
Waste Management Act, to the introduction of the Environmental Assessment Act
and the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act.
The Action Plan for
To fulfil our mandate, the
government developed the Environmental Action Plan for British Columbia. This
document set out MELP's understanding of the environmental management
challenges facing British Columbia and established environmental priorities.
The Environmental Action Plan also represents a commitment to consultation and
review, recognizing that protection of the environment is a regulatory
responsibility of government ministries and agencies, as well as a stewardship
responsibility shared by all British Columbians. Understanding the challenges
and achieving solutions will require the collective resolve and actions of
individuals, groups and communities.
Five priorities are reflected in
the Environmental Action Plan:
Improving Environmental Impact
Preserving Biodiversity and Natural
Reducing Waste and Preventing
Improving Water Management; and,
Strengthening Enforcement and
These priorities helped set
guidelines for the review and revision of environmental legislation, and for
consolidation and reform of all environmental protection legislation to ensure
greater effectiveness and efficiency.
To provide direction and
consistency in the review of the legislation, MELP adopted the following
Openness and Consultation: The legislation
will ensure that information is accessible to British Columbians and that
ministry procedures are open, with frequent opportunities for public
Integration: More emphasis on the
integrated management of resources is needed. Hence, the legislation will
promote greater integration between ministry programs and activities.
Innovation: The legislation will
include new ideas and approaches.
Delegation: Where appropriate, the
legislation will provide for the delegation of decision-making within the
ministry, to other ministries and to local government.
Prevention: The legislation will
reflect a commitment to prevent and resolve environmental concerns before they
can become major problems.
Effective Compliance and
Enforcement: The legislation will reflect the need for new approaches to
promoting compliance and aiding enforcement to ensure that laws on the books
reflect practice in the field.
Most importantly, to make this a successful
review and restructuring of environmental protection legislation, we decided
that a thorough consultation process was essential. For this reason, we
approached legislative reform in British Columbia incrementally through the
publication of discussion papers followed by review and debate. This has
provided a forum for detailed consultation with the public and key
Since 1991, both new Acts and many
important revisions to existing Acts have been introduced.
Land Title Act: Natural,
historical, cultural and environmental qualities of British Columbia require
protection and preservation for future generations. Revisions to the Land Title
Act create conservation covenants for the coordinated protection of areas and
offer public benefits not available through more traditional forms of land use
Amendments to the Act:
Ensure that private conservation
agreements become a practical means of preservation in British Columbia. For
example, conservation covenants may be created for purposes such as preserving
special wetland areas, restoration of old barns for barn owls and maintenance
of an area containing ancient petroglyphs.
Allow for multiple land uses within
a single parcel of land.
Provide that regulation, monitoring
and enforcement of covenants fall upon the non-governmental covenantees.
Wildlife Act: Amendments to the
Wildlife Act were passed in both 1992 and 1993. Prior to the amendments,
wildlife management areas were administered by the Wildlife and Fisheries
Branches and only activities managed by these branches could be carried out
within these areas. Amendments to the Act allow other government agencies to
regulate activities within Wilderness Management Areas where the Wildlife and
Fisheries Branches are satisfied the activity is compatible. These changes
encourage better use and administration of Wildlife Management Areas, which in
turn encourages the creation of more of these areas.
Since 1991, the government has
established major Wildlife Management Areas to secure important habitats in the
South Arm of the Fraser River, the Englishman River Estuary on Vancouver Island
and the South Okanagan at the north end of Osoyoos Lake.
Water Act: Revisions to the Water
Act were long overdue and measures to improve water management activities
throughout the province were urgently needed. Four amendments have been made to
the Water Act.
Stream management activities:
development activities on the bed and banks of rivers, streams and lakes have
the obvious potential to damage ecosystems and can result in downstream
flooding. Prior to amendment, actual diversion or use of water was required
before an approval under the Water Act was necessary. As a result, bridge
construction, pipeline crossings, the placing of culverts and other similar
activities escaped regulation. Amendments now provide MELP with the authority
to regulate changes in and about watercourses even though there is no diversion
or direct use of the water resource.
Delegation of decision-making:
confirms the roles, responsibilities, and method of appointment of officials
under the Water Act. This enables decision-making to be delegated to the most
appropriate individuals in MELP's regional offices.
Standardization of the appeal
process: there is a new process relating to the cancellation of water licenses
and approvals. Appeals are now heard by the Environmental Appeal Board rather
than by the B.C. Supreme Court.
Strengthened penalties: the Act now
contains penalties that are consistent with modern environmental legislation.
Waste Management Act: For the past
decade, the principal Act concerning the protection of the environment in
British Columbia has been the Waste Management Act. The main purpose of this
Act is to control or prohibit waste discharges. Growing public concerns, new
scientific understanding and improved technology with respect to waste
management were driving forces in the review of the Act and subsequent
amendments. Revisions were made to the Act in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
The 1992 amendments provide for:
better legislation to prevent air pollution; improved provisions for local
government waste management planning; new provisions to encourage reduction,
re-use and recycling of waste; and is improvements in enforcement. These
New authority in the Act to control
the use and sale of packaging, product
containers and disposable products.
These changes will reduce waste and encourage the use of recyclable materials
in the packaging of products.
Improved waste management planning
for municipal solid waste, liquid waste and recyclable material.
The 1993 amendments also reflected
a thorough reform of the way in which contaminated sites are managed and
regulated in British Columbia. These amendments were the result of several
years of extensive consultation with interested parties both inside and outside
government. The amendments embody the "polluter pays" principle by
striving to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that innocent persons and
government do not have to bear the costs and liability associated with the
identification and remediation of contaminated sites.
Amendments to the Act will:
Permit the collection of
information to ensure identification of contaminated sites. For example, site
information will be required as part of the municipal approval process on
application for subdivision and rezoning.
Establish an orderly process for
the assessment and clean-up of contaminated sites.
Establish a "site
registry" which records information about the condition of each individual
site investigated and the status of the remediation process.
Provide rules and principles which
define responsible persons and govern the liability provisions for site
Allow the Minister to carry out
remediation activities where necessary and to recover the cost from the
responsible parties. Amendments also enable the Minister to undertake
remediation of high risk orphan sites by sharing costs on a 50/50 basis with
the federal government.
Cleaner air is also a major policy
objective of the government and it is our intention to ensure that cleaner
vehicles, fuels and lower emission wood stoves are available in British
Columbia. Amendments to the Waste Management Act in 1994 contained three
separate legislative initiatives in these areas: the creation of regulatory
power to control emissions from engines, motor vehicles, propulsion systems and
fuels; the creation of regulatory power to control solid fuel burning domestic
appliances; and the repeal of an outdated section of the Motor Vehicle Act that
pertains to emission standards for vehicles.
More specifically these legislative
Provision of power to negotiate
with the auto and oil industry and, if necessary, introduce regulations to ensure
that British Columbia receives vehicles with lower emissions and cleaner fuels.
The amendments establish powers to regulate emissions from all types of engines
as well as the quality, quantity and type of fuels to be supplied in the
Regulation of new solid fuel
burning domestic appliances such as wood stoves and fireplace inserts. Only
those such devices which meet strict particulate emission standards will be
available for purchase.
Changes to the Motor Vehicle Act
which move the authority to regulate new vehicle emissions to the Waste
Management Act and which promote the use of low-and zero-emission vehicles such
as those powered by batteries or hydrogen charged fuel cells or those using
The Low Sulphur Diesel Fuel Regulation
passed by Cabinet in July. This regulation will come into effect on October 1,
1994. The regulation makes the sale of low diesel fuel mandatory in British
Environmental Assessment Act: The
Environmental Assessment Act was passed in July of this year and is anticipated
to come into effect early in 1995. This is a new Act which represents a
significant advance in environmental assessment and protection legislation in
The objective of this Act is to
provide a comprehensive, effective and efficient process to assess major
projects and activities that have significant impacts on the environment. The
Act allows for significant public and stakeholder input. The Act will:
Establish a process for identifying
any potential impacts of major projects,
including the evaluation of
economic and social benefits and of measures to prevent or mitigate adverse
environmental or other impacts.
Allow permitting and licensing
reviews required under other legislation to be carried out concurrently with an
Allow public advisory committees to
be established as needed to make recommendations on applications.
Require a Category Assessment
Specifications document to be used by the Executive Director and the proponent
to allow a more efficient review of projects. This document sets out
information about the predictable effects of a category of projects.
Ensure information related to
projects being reviewed will be made available to the public as early as
Create an Environmental Assessment
Board to conduct independent public reviews of complex and contentious
Ensure compatibility with the
Federal Environmental Assessment Act in order to avoid duplication of effort.
Forest Practices Code of British
Columbia Act: The Forest Practices Code, introduced and coordinated by the
Ministry of Forests, is a system of legislation, regulations, standards and
field guides that will be used to regulate the use of forest, range and
recreation resources. The Forests Practices Code of British Columbia Act is the
enabling legislation for this system. The Act responds to the challenge of
ensuring sustainable forest practices: it seeks to provide a more balanced use
of forest resources and practices that respond to the entire spectrum of current
needs without compromising the demands of future generations.
The major contributions of the Act
A commitment to sustainable forest
A single, legally enforceable,
A new framework for zoning of
forest lands and planning forest operations;
Increased recognition of all forest
resources and improved capacity for the government to regulate forest
Strong compliance and enforcement
A Forest Practices Board to monitor
compliance with the Code and a Forest Appeals Commission to hear appeals under
This Act establishes British
Columbia's first Forest Practices Code, which will regulate forest practices
through standards that are clearly defined, mandatory and enforceable. It
provides an entirely new framework for provincial forest management. This Code
will replace a mix of statutes, regulations and guidelines, many of which were
overlapping, confusing and costly to comply with, and contradictory or
By ensuring that sustainable forestry
is practised in those areas that do not receive protected status, the Code will
protect biodiversity and complement major land use planning initiatives being
carried out through the Commission on Resources and the Environment and the
Protected Areas Strategy.
The forestry legislation is
accompanied by a jobs strategy designed to generate employment through
environmental restoration and silviculture projects. This Forest Renewal Plan,
initiated this year, is developing partnership between government, the forest
industry, environmentalists, First Nations, and communities.
Future Legislative Initiatives
The review and revision of
environmental legislation is an ongoing process in British Columbia. While much
has been accomplished since 1991, environmental challenges continue to change
and grow. As a result there is continuing need for review and revision of
environmental protection legislation.
Two of the most significant areas
of legislation that are being considered for introduction in future legislative
sessions are the British Columbia Environmental Protection Act (BCEPA) and
further reforms to water legislation.
The British Columbia Environmental
Protection Act will be the major environmental protection act of this ministry.
It will group together the provisions that apply to all environmental
legislation - such as the general principles of environmental management,
enforcement, environmental rights and obligations, appeals and emergency
measures. As well, the BCEPA will establish the legislative basis for programs
related to pollution prevention and control, air quality, water quality,
pesticides and waste management.
Reforms to water legislation will
look at consolidating all provisions dealing with the effective management of water.
This will include groundwater protection, in stream flow protection, water
management planning and water export.
The Government of British Columbia
has set an ambitious goal for reforming environmental laws and practices. The
objective is to create new and modern legislation to promote environmental
protection. MELP is well on its way to accomplishing many of the goals and
objectives set by the government. As our understanding of environmental issues
develops and grows, continuing review and revision of our environmental
legislation will help us to better protect the environment.