Public Policy Canada

Sophie Foster, ASLO Policy Intern and student at the University of Toronto, created this page to provide a basic guide to Canadian governmental structure as it relates to aquatic science issues. If you have comments or suggestions for improvements to this site, please contact the ASLO Communication and Science Office.

Federal and Provincial Powers

The Constitution Act of 1867 divides legislative authority for aquatic issues between the federal or provincial government. This is referred to as the division of powers. Because the provinces have jurisdiction over Municipalities, and can grant them additional jurisdiction, they may also be involved in water management. The provinces have primarily taken the lead in regulating water management; however the federal government also plays a role, particularly in relation to toxic substances. The federal government's main areas of constitutional responsibility are for fisheries, navigation, and for waters that lie across international borders. Section 91 of the Constitution Act outlines the powers of the Government of Canada over aquatic issues. They include:

  • Peace, order and good government (Section 91);
  • Trade and commerce (Section 91(2));
  • Navigation and shipping (Section 91(10));
  • Sea coast and inland fisheries (Section 91(12));
  • Criminal law (Section 91(27)); and
  • Canals, harbours, rivers and lake improvements (Section 108).

The provinces' legislative authorities are listed under section 92 of the Constitution Act. Issues of aquatic relevance fall under the following powers:

  • Municipal institutions (Section 92(8));
  • Local works and undertakings (Section 92(10));
  • Property and civil rights (Section 92(13));
  • Matters of a "merely local or private nature" (Section 92(16)); and
  • Natural resources, forestry and electrical energy (Section 92A and 109).

These powers are subject to interpretation and continue to be challenged in the courts.

Bills can be introduced in either the House of Commons (Bills starting with C-) or in the Senate (Bills starting with S-). Bills related to government spending or taxes must be introduced in the House of Commons.

Canadian Legislative Process

How a bill becomes a law:

The long version:

The short version:

LEGISINFO: To search bills currently before Parliament. You will need to know the bill number or title to use this resource.

The Department of Justice Canada provides access to the text of acts and other regulations. It is very user-friendly - you can search keywords in the title of the document or in the text.

Parliamentary Committees

Standing committees are permanent and can study issues referred to it by standing or special order, or it can undertake studies of its own initiative. Most committees have 12 members who can take part in committee debate, question witnesses, move motions, and vote. Canadian Committees that have jurisdiction over research funding and other aquatic relevant issues and legislation are listed below. Please note that many aquatic issues fall under provincial jurisdiction and therefore will be covered by provincial agencies.

House of Commons

Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI)

This committee studies and reports on the policies, programs and legislation of Environment Canada, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development reports are also referred to the committee. Environment Canada's mandate is to preserve and enhance the natural environment; including water, air and soil quality.

Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO)

This committee studies the policies, programs and legislation related to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the federal department that handles issues related to oceans and inland waters. Their mandate includes responsibility for the conservation and sustainable use of Canada's fisheries resources. Long term priorities of Fisheries and Oceans Canada are to manage and protect 1) the fisheries resource, 2) the marine and freshwater environment, 3) the oceans and aquatic resources, 4) to maintain marine safety, and 5) to facilitate maritime trade, commerce and ocean development. Issues related to the mandate are referred to the committee by the House of Commons or chosen by the committee itself to examine. This may include departmental activities and spending.

House Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology (INDU)

This committee studies policies and programs related to the National Research Council NRC and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada NSERC.


Senate committees can only study issues the Senate refers to it. Each committee has a general mandate but any issue can be sent to any committee if the Senate chooses to do so. The following is a list of the relevant committees and their general mandates;

Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans:

This committee has jurisdiction over fisheries matters.

Standing Committee on Social Affairs

Science education is in the domain of this committee.

Standing Committee of Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

This committee deals with issues related to water conservation and wetlands.

Canadian Budget Basics

From: Parliament - House of Commons Canada- Precis of Procedure- Chapter 13

The Canadian Fiscal year runs from April 1- March 31. (Sep-Dec) Annual Reference Level Update (ARLU)- Prepared by the departments and provided to the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). TBS make recommendations to the Treasury Board Ministers on future funding levels for departments and agencies. (Dec-Feb) The Main Estimates (Blue Book) is prepared by the Treasury Board Secretariat based on negotiations during the ARLU phase.


March 1- Table Estimates of spending for next fiscal year

March 1- May 31 (or the last sitting day in June if they are considering the Reports on Plans and Priorities RPP)- Estimates are considered in the appropriate committees. They consider each budgetary item called votes separately and can either agreed to (approving the amount), amended (reducing the amount) or negatived (eliminated). They cannot increase the spending amount. Committee consideration may include calling witnesses from the appropriate Minister, Agency or interested individuals or groups. If the Committee is considering the agency Report on Plans and Priorities they have until the last sitting day on June to consider the Estimates.

Next step- Standing committee reports are tabled and there is opportunity for the Members of the House to review and debate the decisions reached by each committee. The Government must provide 48 hours written notice of a motion to concur the Estimates or to make changes to committee decisions such as reinstate deleted items. Members can oppose any items in the Estimates.

Late June- (Last day in the June 23 supply period) appropriations bills introduced. As with the U.S. system, appropriations bills allocate actual funding to government programs.

Note: The Canadian system has a built-in schedule conflict. The fiscal year ends March 31 and the new authorization for spending doesn't come until after June 23. Thus for nearly three months, the government is operating without a current budget. The Canadian solution to this problem is to allow interim spending, which authorizes spending for the 3 months. The figures are expressed in twelfths of the amounts in the main estimates and usually the interim supply is for three twelfths of the main estimates.

For Further Information

Guides to the workings of the Canadian System
Current Events

Canadian Gazette
For those wanting to keep up to date with government action can go to the Canadian Gazette which provides Canadians with formal public notices, official appointments, proposed regulations and public acts of Parliament from government departments and agencies. Part I is published every Saturday and it lists proposed legislation and Canadians are invited to comment. Part II lists all enacted regulations and is published every second Wednesday.


Getting Involved

Contacting Canadian politicians

Many of the issues discussed in the American version of getting involved applies to contacting Canadian politicians.

If you know your postal code you can find out your Member of Parliament on the Canadian Parliament home page.

Senators are listed by province, just follow the links under current Parliamentarians.

Environmental Petition

Through the Auditor general's office you can petition an environmental issue in writing. An individual, organization, municipality or corporation can initiate a petition and numerous signatures are not necessary. The Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development on behalf of the Auditor General then forwards the petition to the appropriate ministers and monitors the replies. Replies are required within 120 days after the minister receives the petition from the Auditor General's Office. Petitions and replies are posted. The type of petition is broad and can include requests for clarification of current legislation, and suggestions for improvements to current legislation. Information on how to prepare a petition is posted on the Auditor General's web site.

Make a submission to a Committee of the House of Commons

Any organization or individual can submit a brief relevant to that committee. It must be based on factual information, and recommendations made should be as specific as possible. The brief should be sent to the committee clerk. For full information on how to prepare a brief go to

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