Intervenor: vol. 26, no. 4 September - December 2001

Children's Health and the Environment: Executive Director's Report

The year 2002 is expected to bring many challenges to Canadians. One of the most formidable challenges will be to continue the fight to protect environmental and public health. What is clear is that non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like CELA and the many other organizations it represents and works with, will play a role in furthering these objectives. The reality is that the role of non-governmental groups is more vital today than ever.

Since the early 1990s, government budgets with respect to environmental protection have continued to decrease. Governments are determined to download traditional governmental functions to other agencies or the private sector. Rather than regulate, governments remain committed to voluntary compliance approaches. With diminished capacity, deregulation and downloading, the Canadian public is left with a simple question - what is the role of government and how should it be reconstructed to serve public interest objectives?

It is no wonder then that public interest organizations continue to gain the respect of the public. When one thinks of the work they have done, despite the challenges of government downsizing and deregulation, it is apparent that they remain an invaluable mechanism to promote sustainability. The Canadian public seems to regard them as a legitimate oversight mechanism to alert everyone to questionable governmental actions.

In this issue of the Intervenor, there are many examples of how NGOs have made a difference in furthering some environmental and human goals. There are a number of articles in this issue (see Related Information below) describing the work promoting a children's health agenda. It is apparent that this agenda was the result of hard and dedicated resolve of many public interest groups that have collected the science and that advocate for greater protection of one of society's most vulnerable populations - children.

Another article describes the work of the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN).The article describes, in a very modest fashion, the profound impact of how NGOs not only worked to have an international treaty concluded, but to ensuring that it be implemented as well.

The article on the Walkerton Inquiry (see Related Information below) highlights how a local Walkerton group fought very hard to ensure that the Inquiry had the benefit of the best groundwater evidence possible for its deliberations. This group continues its mandate to ensure that the May 2000 tragedy is not repeated again.

These examples demonstrate the relevance, vitality and value of public interest groups. However, it is apparent that such groups cannot overcome the kind of environmental and human health challenges we will meet this century unless governments make those issues a priority. That hope remains at the top of CELA's 2002 wish list.

Paul Muldoon is a lawyer at CELA