2019 Spring Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of Canada The Commissioner’s Perspective
2019 Spring Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of CanadaThe Commissioner’s Perspective
As I leave this position after five years, it is time to reflect on what has been accomplished and what is left to do by my successor and parliamentarians.
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada was created by Parliament. We report to that institution on a regular basis, through a solid working relationship. In my first submission of reports in 2014, I committed to focusing on the federal role in promoting sustainable, long-term development. That same focus is reflected in this latest submission, covering the effects of mining on fish and their habitat, the dangers of aquatic invasive species, and federal efforts to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
There are lessons I have learned as Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The first is that audits can create action. The prospect of receiving a bad report card from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development or the Auditor General often leads to good outcomes as government organizations take action while audits are under way. We saw this during our audit of the government’s preparedness to implement the goals set out in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (we presented the results of this audit to Parliament in spring 2018). When we first started that work, there was little to nothing to audit. By the end of our audit period and shortly after, much activity was under way. However, on the downside, federal departments and agencies do not always follow through on all of our recommendations.
The second lesson I have learned is about the critical role of Parliament. Members of Parliament pass laws; auditors examine the detail and impacts of how these laws are implemented by government organizations and report back to Parliament on the outcomes. I believe our audit reports are important in this cycle of legislative authority on the one hand, and accountability on the other.
And members of Parliament can do even more. For instance, I believe that the findings and recommendations presented in our reports could have greater impact if they were subject to formal committee hearings in the same way that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts individually reviews all of the Auditor General’s reports. In addition, Parliament could consider requiring federal organizations to submit action plans on how they intend to implement the recommendations they have agreed to in our reports. Follow-up by Parliament on the government’s progress in implementing these action plans will also promote positive change.
As Commissioner, I was proud to present the results of the first truly national picture of climate change action in this country. This historic audit brought together all of Canada’s provincial auditors general, along with the federal office, all auditing one topic at the same time. Never had this been done before in Canada. This work provided Canadians and elected officials from coast to coast to coast with a clear picture of the nation’s status on what is one of the most significant challenges of our time.
As important as this snapshot is, it’s the slow action on climate change that is disturbing. Many of my reports focused on climate change from various angles. We looked at federal support for sustainable municipal infrastructure, mitigating the impacts of severe weather, marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic, environmental monitoring of oil sands, oversight of federally regulated pipelines, funding clean energy technologies, fossil fuel subsidies, and progress on reducing greenhouse gases. For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate. This must change.
Finally, I want to highlight that the Office has reflected the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) in its sustainable development strategy and taken action to integrate these goals and the underlying principles into all of its activities. Auditors general around the world are also working on weaving the SDGs into their work, and our Office is a leader in this area.
I have been privileged to lead dedicated teams of experts, and I must acknowledge the professionalism and work ethic of the Office as a whole. I have been proud to work within such a great organization, and I wish the Office great success in the future.