New guide helps Canadians get Environmental Answers

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

Ever wondered what the government was doing about an environmental issue? Not satisfied with what you see on the news?

Did you know that there is a mechanism in place that allows you to petition the government directly? A new guide at the Auditor General’s website (www.oag-bvg.gc.ca) seeks to make that process easier to navigate.

While the environmental petitions process has been in place since 1995, the new guide helps citizens navigate the often complex task of filing a formal petition.

The petition process allows any resident of Canada to submit a petition to Ministers of 26 federal departments and agencies who must personally reply to the petition within 120 days.

According to Mark Lawrence, Environmental Petitions Supervisor, the petitioner can pose questions or concerns they have relating to either environmental or sustainable development matters that fall within the authority of the federal government. “In the past, petitions have covered a diverse range of issues from oil tankers on the west coast, salmon farming, fisheries, pollution, shale gas fracking, toxic chemicals and climate change,” says Lawrence.

On behalf of the Auditor General of Canada, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development manages the environmental petitions process and monitors responses of federal ministers.

Once a petition is received and accepted, it is forwarded to the appropriate minister(s). Federal ministers respond to petitions on behalf of departments and agencies. When they receive a petition, they are required to provide a response to the petitioner(s) within 120 days. They may extend this period by notifying the petitioner before the 120-day limit.

The petition, subject to the consent of the petitioner, is then published on our website along with the Ministerial response which allows more Canadians to become informed about the issues raised.

There are three criteria that a petition must meet to be eligible. First, it must be submitted and signed by a resident of Canada. Any Canadian resident—either an individual or an organization—can submit an environmental petition. However, a petition cannot be submitted anonymously. Petitioners must include their name, address, and signature. If the petition is being submitted on behalf of a group (for example, an organization or an association), it must be signed by a representative of the group.

Secondly, it must be about an environmental matter in the context of sustainable development. The reference to sustainable development reinforces the links between environmental considerations and social and economic matters. Accordingly, petitions may cover a wide range of subjects, such as contaminated sites, urban air pollution, pesticides, etc.

Finally, the issue must fall under the mandate of one or more of the federal departments or agencies subject to the environmental petitions process. Many, but not all, federal departments and agencies are required to respond to environmental petitions. However, some departments and agencies that are not subject to the process respond voluntarily to petitions. Likewise, some environmental concerns are not federally mandated, put provincially.

To find out more, visit the Office of the Auditor General, at www.oag-bvg.gc.ca, then choose “Environmental Petitions” under the Environment and Sustainable Development tab on the left-hand side of the page.