Canadian Law as a Mechanism for the Implementation of Sustainable Development: An Introduction

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INTRODUCTION

Although the term "sustainable development" has been defined in numerous ways, (1) the concept is rooted primarily in the concern for ensuring intergenerational equity. Simply stated, the goal of sustainable development, as defined in the Brundtland Report, is to meet "the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (2) Accordingly, sustainable development has been described as promoting an economic system that allows present generations access to the "dividends" of resources while maintaining and improving the "asset base" for the benefit of subsequent generations. (3) Consequently, the concept is said to require that global economic efforts focus on satisfying the current population's needs while recognizing that the Earth's capacity to accommodate development is finite and that there exists a "moral imperative" not to deprive future generations of the resources required to ensure their well-being. (4)

Notwithstanding that the objectives of sustainable development include reconciling both social equity and environmental quality with economic development, this paper will focus primarily on the latter? Following a summary of a number of the principles considered necessary to the implementation of sustainable development, the Canadian approach to sustainable development will be introduced. This introduction will include a brief summary illustrating, in general, how sustainable development has been incorporated into, and is addressed by, pollution control statutes, laws allocating access to or exploitation of natural resources and environmental impact assessment legislation. In addition, three legislative initiatives will be outlined--The Sustainable Development Act6 enacted by the province of Manitoba, the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology Act (7) and the 1995 amendments to the federal Auditor GeneralAct. (8) Although this legislation will not be critiqued, the Canadian approach to sustainable development will be briefly considered in light of those legal principles generally identified as necessary to its implementation. Finally, the outcome of some of the federal government's efforts to foster sustainable development will be mentioned.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PRINCIPLES

The following is a list of a number of the principles that have been identified internationally as necessary to the implementation of sustainable development:

(a) maintenance of ecosystems and ecological processes essential for the functioning of the biosphere, preservation of biological diversity and observation of the principle of optimum sustainable yield in the use of renewable resources and ecosystems; (9)

(b) ensuring that conservation is treated as an integral part of the planning and implementation of development activities; (10)

(c) establishment of adequate environmental protection standards and monitoring of changes in, and publishing relevant data on, environmental quality and resource use; (11)

(d) enactment of effective environmental legislation; (12)

(e) ensuring that environmental impact assessments are undertaken for those proposed activities that may significantly affect the environment or use of a natural resource; (13)

(f) informing all persons likely to be significantly affected by a planned activity and granting them equal access and due process in administrative and judicial proceedings; (14) and

(g) promoting the internalization of environmental costs and use of economic instruments while taking into account the "polluter pays principle"--with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment. (15)

THE CANADIAN APPROACH TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Introduction

The approach to environmental regulation in Canada is said to be characterized by consensus, consultation and negotiation as opposed to prosecution and litigation. …