The Town of Ladysmith is affirming its commitment to the health of residents and the community by signing the Declaration of the Right to a Healthy Environment.
In urging council to sign the declaration during a presentation on Jan. 19, Denis Hughes told council that the declaration was inspired by David Suzuki’s Blue Dot Tour.
“More than 120 countries in the world have Healthy Environment Rights for their citizens, and Canada is not one of them,” he told council. “Canada has the third-largest freshwater supply in the world; we’re right behind Brazil and Russia. Every day in Canada, over 1,000 water advisories are in place.”
He noted that in 2014, Canada was ranked 24th of all industrialized countries on an Environmental Performance Index created by Yale and Columbia universities and was ranked 28th for air quality and 97th for biodiversity and habitat. As well, he says the Centre for Global Development in Washington stated in 2013 that Canada has the dubious honour of being the only country to have an environment score that has gone down since the centre started the index in 2003.
“As you can see, as a country, we’re not exactly environmentally-friendly for the nation’s citizens,” he said. “On that note, I urge you to support the proposal.”
Donna Hemingson joined Hughes in encouraging council to adopt the declaration.
“All living beings, human and animal, have a right to a healthy life-promoting environment,” she said. “This means a right to clean water, clean air to breathe and healthy soil to grow nourishing food. As councillors and managers of our community, I know you have the most difficult job of budgeting and finding the means to support the needs of all aspects of our community. We need jobs, we need development, we need the dollars to support the social and physical infrastructure … We need a healthy environment to produce healthy, life-filled children.”
She noted that the Town of Ladysmith has a sustainability strategy and a vision report that outline eight key pillars of sustainability, and she sees that as fitting well with the proposed declaration.
“I see all of this as being very much in line with the goals of this proposed declaration, so we’re well on our way,” she said. “But, as I understand it, we have to have these rights recognized in our constitution and in our supreme law. Supporting this declaration at the municipal level is the first step and then hopefully it gets to the provincial level, which could then lead to having these rights in our constitution. That’s a big goal. We’re going to have to conform to these rights, and therefore, we would have the ability to have control over our local environment.”
Following Hughes and Hemingson’s presentation, council adopted the Declaration of the Right to a Healthy Environment. In it, Ladysmith council declares that every resident has the right to live in a healthy environment, including the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, consume safe food, access nature, know about pollutants and contaminants released into the local environment, and participate in decision making that will affect the environment.
The declaration also states that by 2016, the Town of Ladysmith will specify objectives, targets, timelines and actions the Town will take to address residents’ right to a healthy environment.
Council also asked staff to prepare a draft resolution regarding the Right to a Healthy Environment for consideration by the Association of Vancouver island and Coastal Communities at its annual meeting.