Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement
December 2011 Report Press Conference—13 December 2011
Good morning. My name is Scott Vaughan, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. My Report today covers three audits, two studies, and the annual report on environmental petitions. Our audit work is current, and was completed this fall.
Environmental stewardship is complex. It must be supported by scientific knowledge, environmental monitoring, and effective enforcement. In addition to examining science at Environment Canada, this Report discusses weaknesses in the enforcement of federal regulations, and identifies improvements needed to enforce federal laws and regulations.
Our first audit looked at how Transport Canada and the National Energy Board determine whether companies required to do so comply with regulations governing the movement of dangerous goods within Canada. Good oversight of regulatory compliance is necessary to protect public safety and the environment.
We found that Transport Canada and the National Energy Board need to improve their oversight of regulated companies and organizations. Where deficiencies have been identified, they have done little follow-up to ensure that corrective measures have been taken.
Transport Canada does not know to what extent organizations transporting dangerous goods are complying with regulations. It has given temporary approval for roughly half of the emergency response plans required to transport the most dangerous regulated goods, such as types of ammonia and acids. Temporary approvals are subject to less verification. Some have been in place for 10 years or more. Many of the weaknesses we found in Transport Canada were identified more than five years ago and have yet to be fixed.
The National Energy Board has not appropriately monitored whether emergency procedures manuals prepared by regulated companies meet established expectations. It has yet to review the manuals of 32 companies. Where it has conducted reviews and identified deficiencies, there was little indication that it followed up to verify that the companies had taken corrective action.
In our audit of environmental science, we found that Environment Canada’s systems and practices to ensure the quality of its science activities are consistent with those generally used in the scientific community. They include peer reviews and other approaches used by world-class research institutions to ensure quality research, as well as various means of communicating scientific information to decision makers.
It is important for Environment Canada to identify and focus on those science activities that are critical to the Canadian public interest. Few organizations aside from the federal government have the capacity to carry out credible, long-term environmental research and monitoring at a national level.
In 2007, the Department developed a plan setting out the long-term directions of its science activities. Now Environment Canada needs to put its plan into practice. A department-wide plan for science is more urgent than ever in this period of fiscal restraint.
In the third audit we are reporting on today, we looked at Environment Canada’s enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. We found that the Department does not know how much its enforcement activities have encouraged compliance and minimized damage and threats to the environment. Enforcement actions have been limited by longstanding problems with the regulations, inadequate training of enforcement officers, and lack of laboratory tests to verify compliance.
Environment Canada is missing key information on those it regulates. This information would help it target those organizations whose activities pose the greatest risk of environmental damage as a result of non-compliance. Also, the Department has not followed up on half of its enforcement actions to verify that violators are now complying with regulations.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is an important part of protecting the health of Canadians and the quality of the environment. I am concerned that shortcomings in key management systems have impeded the effective enforcement of the Act.
The first of the two studies we are reporting on today identifies some of the key challenges and principles related to sustainable fisheries. The Office of the Auditor General has issued studies in the past, to provide information to Parliament.
The decline in some major fish stocks in Canada highlights the need to better understand trends and to promote sustainable fisheries management. Fisheries managers face a difficult combination of environmental, economic, social, and organizational challenges.
The study provides examples of current and emerging practices here in Canada and internationally to help build sustainable fisheries. Key practices include respecting ecological limits to protect future fish stocks and defining clear roles and responsibilities.
Our second study identifies more than 90 environmental monitoring systems that provide Canadians everyday with a wide range of information, from local weather and air and water quality, to wildlife and biodiversity.
Environmental monitoring is necessary to know whether the quality of our environment is getting better or worse. The information the government collects serves many users, including municipal planners, resource managers, and Canadian families.
The final chapter of this Report is the annual report on environmental petitions. This year, we received 25 petitions dealing with a range of topics.
I am now ready to answer your questions.