In recent years, government commitments have started to reflect a shift toward the electrification of Canada’s school buses and transportation systems at large. This is great news for the communities adopting electric school buses (ESBs), who will realize their many health and environmental benefits. Unfortunately, however, the buses and their benefits are not being equally distributed across Canada. On top of that, some communities will bear social and environmental burdens of the transition.
This article calls attention to some of the inequities that may arise along various points of the transition to ESBs and to electric transportation generally, and identifies opportunities to overcome these inequities and bring environmental justice to Canada’s rollout of ESBs. But first, a reminder of the concept and its application in the Canadian context.
Environmental Justice in Canada
Environmental justice in our context means that there is fairness and balance in the distribution of ESBs, in the social and environmental burdens of their production and use, and in the decision-making processes surrounding their rollout. In other words, the transition toward ESBs does not disadvantage certain populations while benefiting the more privileged.
Environmental justice achieves environmental equity in the long term by addressing the root causes of inequities to prevent future injustices from happening. For instance, potential environmental inequities associated with Canada’s ESB transition can be understood as products of environmental racism and other existing forms of social discrimination and disadvantage, such as poverty.
In 2022, the Government of Canada took a formal stance toward environmental justice by amending the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to recognize the right of every person in Canada to a healthy environment. In March 2023, the House of Commons passed Bill C-226, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice. If Canada’s transition to ESBs is to achieve environmental justice, relevant policies will need to reflect these promises.
Equity Challenges in Canada's Rollout
Equity challenges impacts manufacturing of bus batteries, distribution of buses and charging infrastructure and disposal of end-of-life buses.