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Jurisdiction: Who can make laws and policies

Increasingly, partly in response to increasing public concern in involvement around environmental issues, our courts have been interpreting our Constitution in a way that encourages collaborative action by federal and provincial governments to protect the environment. Indeed, in a landmark decision in the early 1990s, the Supreme Court of Canada has declared protection of the environment to be one of Canada’s most critical challenges.

  • Provinces have a very broad power to regulate pollution that occurs within provincial boundaries. As such, they are the primary regulators of industrial air polluteds. They also have the power to delegate responsibility for dealing with local pollution problems to municipal and regional governments. For example the Province of BC has delegated broad air quality management powers to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (a partnership of 20 local government agencies).

  • The Federal government has constitutional power to regulate interprovincial and international air pollution, and can also regulate air pollution under its exclusive jurisdiction over the criminal law. As well, the federal government is responsible for federally owned lands and works.

  • Both levels of government also have powers of taxation that can be used to combat air pollution by providing subsidies to clean industries and processes, by exempting clean fuels from generally applicable taxes, and by supporting green measures such as tax exempt employee transit passes. To date, however, most governments have been reluctant to employ the tax system to protect the environment.

  • The federal government has the power to negotiate and enter into treaties on Canada’s behalf (e.g.the 1991 Canada — US Air Quality Agreement). However, for these treaties to be enforceable at the provincial level, they must be ratified by the affected province: something many provinces have shied away from doing.

  • Many important decisions about how and when to tackle air quality issues are made by intergovernmental bodies, such as Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) despite the fact that such bodies do not have any formal legal status or the power to enact legally binding requirements.

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Many important decisions about how and when to tackle air quality issues are made by intergovernmental bodies, such as Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) despite the fact that such bodies do not have any formal legal status or the power to enact legally binding requirements.