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Despite Canada's large geographic size, only five percent of the land is capable of supporting a variety of crops.
Section 95 of the Canadian Constitution gives concurrent powers over agriculture to the federal and provincial governments. In practice, the federal government's power over agriculture is limited. Laws concerning marketing of agricultural products are a matter of property and civil rights in the province.
The federal Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food has the authority to regulate agriculture so that consumers obtain safe and nutritious food at reasonable prices while producers receive a reasonable return on their investment. The Department also develops business opportunities for the agri-food sector. The Department administers a number of statutes. In October 1996, the federal government released the Strategy for the Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture and Agri-Food Development In Canada.
The provincial governments regulate agriculture through their respective ministries or departments responsible for agriculture.
Canada has a number of soil conservation programs. A Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food July 1995 report, The Health Of Our Soils, states that the overall risk of soil erosion by water and wind has decreased nearly everywhere in Canada in the last ten years because of conservation practices. Programs under which farmers could potentially receive funding for taking or keeping environmentally sensitive land out of production include the following:
In most provinces, the Ministry of the Environment is responsible for controlling pollution from agricultural activities, including the use of pesticides on agricultural land. Different regulations or directives have been elaborated to prevent air and water pollution from agricultural activities. For example, some provinces make mandatory the production of a plan of fertilization and the keeping of records on fertilization. Manure spreading is often restricted to certain periods and the use of sprinklers and manure guns is sometimes forbidden. Different specifications regarding the watertightness and the location of agricultural buildings must also be satisfied to ensure not to contaminate underground waters or the air. Violators may be fined up to $50,000 for a physical person and up to $500,000 for a moral person.
Pollutants from agricultural practices that enter fish bearing waters may also be controlled by the federal government under the Fisheries Act. The provisions of the Act prohibiting the unauthorized deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish is an important tool for agricultural pollution control.
Pesticides are regulated by both the federal and provincial governments. The federal government controls the import, export, manufacturing and labelling of these products under its agriculture and trade and commerce powers. Provincial governments control the actual use of pesticides. Some joint initiatives between provincial and federal governments seek to integrate pest management (Integrated Pest Management-IPM).
Pesticides are registered under the federal Pest Control Products Act. This act specifies the duties and obligations of sellers of pesticides (manufacturers and importers) regarding the classification, packaging and labelling of products. About 7000 products, including 500 active ingredients, are currently available in Canada. A few pesticides are regulated as toxic substances under the federal Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Provinces have laws governing pesticide use. Generally, provincial laws put in place mechanisms to ensure that sellers and users of pesticides have the necessary competence and to make them sensitive to health and environmental risks. Most provinces require that users and sellers of pesticides obtain a permit and a certificate of competence. Statements prepared by permit holders give information on which pesticides are used and sold in the province. The permit states the type of activity and the category of pesticides the firm is allowed to use or sell. A certificate of competence is required for users and sellers of pesticides in activity sectors for which a permit is mandatory. Harmonisation of requirements across Canada should facilitate the use of certificates in different provinces.
In some provinces, important projects such as spraying of pesticides must undergo an impact study and must be subject to the obtaining of an approval certificate. Many provinces also require that empty pesticide containers be recycled rather than buried.
Specific legislation, such as an Agricultural Lands Preservation Act may protect agricultural land by preventing encroachment from residential, commercial, or industrial development.
At the international level, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan was signed between Canada and the United States in 1986, and was endorsed by Mexico in 1989. The objective of the plan is to restore waterfowl populations to 1970 levels by securing over 2.5 million hectares of wetland and upland habitat across Canada (see Section 25.4; Agreements Relating to International Rivers and Lakes).
There is potential for linking major domestic agriculture support programs to compliance by farmers with minimum environmental standards. The federal Farm Income Protection Act (FIPA) requires the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food to take long-term environmental sustainability into consideration in the federal-provincial agreements that form the basis of FIPA. FIPA also requires the federal-provincial agreements to set out the circumstances and conditions under which insurance may be withheld, restricted, or enhanced, for the purpose of protecting the environment and encouraging sound management practices to ensure environmental sustainability.