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Political Environmental History of the Federal Government of Canada

The overarching purpose of this timeline is to highlight that climate change is a non-partisan issue and historically, there have been contributions towards environmental protection by both the federal Conservative and Liberal parties. However, this timeline is incomplete as it only documents the settler government’s conservation efforts starting from 1887, and does not encompass the historic conservation efforts of First Peoples on this land, that is currently known as Canada. It is essential to keep in mind the decolonized history of Canada and the government’s role in taking away land from Indigenous peoples. Indigenous issues should not be partisan and should be central to the discussion surrounding climate change as well as ownership and stewardship of the land in present day Canada. 


Additional references for reading on the decolonized history of Canada include: Unsettling Canada by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ron Derrickson, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King and Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival by Bev Sellars.


The Government of Canada’s environmental action can be traced back to 1887, when Sir John A. MacDonald’s liberal-conservative government created the first federal bird sanctuary in North America, located in Saskatchewan (1).  The Canada parks branch was established in 1911, under Sir Robert Borden’s conservative government (1). In 1930, the Canadian National Parks Act states that the national parks “shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (8). Conservation efforts continued to grow alone until the 1960s, at which point the environment became a bigger priority to the government (1).

Liberal Government – Pierre Elliott Trudeau


Experimental Lakes Area, a designated area protected from forestry operations to perform long-term ecological research, is established in northern Ontario. (3)

Pierre Elliot Trudeau announces five new environmental laws in his throne speech. (4)

Most ambitious environmental agenda ever stated in a Throne Speech.

Canada attended the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. (1)

Federal government passed the Canada Water Act. (4)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is founded. It is considered a big and bureaucratic department, directly under parliamentary whim.(3)


Environmental Contaminants Act was passed to control chemicals (PCBs). (4)



Department of the Environment was created. (4 

Federal government passed the Clean Air Act. (4)




World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere hosted in Toronto, one of the first high-level conferences on climate change. (1)



The Canadian delegation including Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrat attended the Second World Climate Conference held in Geneva. (3)

Canada’s Green Plan for a healthy environment was created with the aim to stabilize emissions of CO2 and other GHGs at 1990 levels by the year 2000. (7)


The Acid Rain Accord is created between Canada and the US, with the aim to significantly reduce acid rain levels and sulfur dioxide emissions. (2)


Eight new national parks are created. (2)

2/3rd of the Experimental Lakes Area staff were cut. (3)


Progressive Conservative Government – Brian Mulroney (1984-1993)