Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Councillor’s Corner: Blue Dot Project

By Councillor Jaden Calvert

calvert225As you are probably aware, I put forward a motion at the council meeting on March 2nd, which was carried, for staff to be directed to research the Blue Dot project and to help craft a declaration for the Municipality of Meaford recognizing people’s right to live in a healthy environment.

The Blue Dot project is a growing national grassroots initiative based on the idea that everyone in Canada deserves the right to enjoy fresh air, clean water, and safe food. As Canadians, we don’t have these rights.

Municipal governments make decisions, such as on transportation, housing density, waste disposal, that affect the quality of the environment. Local governments also have the power to pass bylaws to protect residents from environmental harm. A municipal declaration is a commitment to principles that will protect, fulfill and promote the right to a healthy environment.

I am proposing that the Municipality of Meaford:

  1. Officially recognize the Right to a Healthy Environment, through a municipal declaration or equivalent measure;

  2. Respect, protect and fulfill the right to a healthy environment within municipal boundaries; and

  3. Encourage provincial and federal action to protect the right to a healthy environment for all Canadians.

Over the past 50 years, the right to a healthy environment has gained much recognition. More than 110 nations around the world have already recognized their citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment through bylaws, declarations, legislation, charters, and constitutional provisions. In the United States, over 150 local governments have passed ordinances that recognize citizens’ right to a healthy environment and protect them from a range of harmful practices.The rights protected by these legal instruments include breathing clean air, drinking clean water, consuming safe food, accessing nature, and knowing about pollutants and contaminants released into the local environment. Evidence shows that most countries with environmental rights and responsibilities in their constitutions:

  • enjoy stronger and better enforced environmental laws;

  • demonstrate enhanced government and corporate accountability;

  • have smaller per capita ecological footprints;

  • rank higher on environmental performance in over a dozen key areas;

  • are more likely to have ratified international environmental agreements; and

  • have been more successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.3

Today, Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms presently does not explicitly protect or even address environmental rights, leaving Canada among a minority of countries that do not yet recognize the right to a healthy environment. Just as the Charter guarantees us freedom of expression and protects us from discrimination, environmental rights would ensure that our laws and policies protect the basic elements of our survival, such as clean air, safe water and unpolluted land. While five provinces and territories have some modest form of environmental rights legislation, even in these jurisdictions (Quebec, Ontario, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) the laws have significant weaknesses that undermine their effectiveness and need to be substantially strengthened. Municipal governments can help move toward developing an overarching environmental legal framework in Canada. Yellowknife became the sixth city in Canada to pass an environmental rights declaration in December 2014, following other municipalities like Montreal and Vancouver.

The inextricable link between environmental and human health is now widely recognized. Nine out of 10 Canadians are concerned about the impact of environmental degradation on their health and the health of their children5 – and with good reason. The World Health Organization estimates environmental contamination, including polluted air and water, causes as many as 36,000 premature deaths annually in Canada6 – the total costs of pollution in Canada are more than $100 billion a year. Preventable environmental hazards contribute up to 1.5 million days in hospital annually due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, cancer, and birth defects alone.Half of all Canadians live in areas where they are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution – Canada has no national safety regulations for air quality standards. The environment has a tremendous influence on our health and well-being.We cannot be making decisions at the expense of the health of our environment and community – our bodies and communities will rebel when such poor decisions are made. The costs to human health and the environment should always be considered when evaluating reasonably foreseeable costs of proposed actions and alternatives. Where potential threats of serious or irreversible damage to human health or the environment exist, the precautionary principle should be applied.

The right to a healthy environment is the simple yet powerful idea that all Canadians deserve to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, and eat healthy food. This is about protecting the people and places we love. Every Canadian deserves a future that is healthier and more secure.

By recognizing people’s right to live in a healthy environment, the Municipality of Meaford is showing that we are ready to be a leader on environmental rights and building a healthy, sustainable community. We all share the responsibility for our community’s survival and health. We can build a sustainable economy while protecting the health of our environment: they are not mutually exclusive. We must continue to strive to make responsible decisions that lead to a more vibrant, resilient community, leaving a legacy that allows our grandchildren to thrive. Do you think it’s something you can support?

For more information on the Blue Dot project, visit bluedot.ca.

Also, please send me your comments to jcalvert@meaford.ca

  1. Boyd, D. R. and S. Genuis. 2008. “The Environmental Burden of Disease in Canada: Respiratory Disease, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and Congenital Affliction.” Environmental Research 106: 240-49.

  2. Boyd, D. 2012. The Right to a Healthy Environment. Vancouver: UBC Press.

  3. Boyd, D. R. 2013. “The Importance of Constitutional Recognition of the Right to a Healthy Environment” http://davidsuzuki.org/publications/2013/11/DSF%20White%20Paper%201–2013.pdf

  4. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Community Rights. http://www.celdf.org/section.php?id=423

  5. McAllister, A. 2010a. A Backyard Field Guide to Canadians. Vancouver: McAllister Opinion Research; Hoggan and Associates. 2009. Sustainability Research Initiative. Vancouver: James Hoggan and Associates.

  6. World Health Organization. 2008. National Estimates of Environmental Burden of Disease – Canada. Geneva: World Health Organization.

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