2015 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

2015 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

23 February 2016

Julie Gelfand
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Madam Chair, thank you for inviting us. I am pleased to be here today to present the findings of my Fall of 2015 reports which were tabled in the House of Commons on January 26th 2016. I am accompanied by Andrew Ferguson, Kimberley Leach and Joe Martire, who were responsible for the reports.

Report 1—Pesticide Safety

The first audit looked at how the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has managed selected aspects of its mandate. The Agency is tasked with determining which pesticide products should be registered for use in Canada, and under which conditions.

There are currently about 7,000 pesticides, containing some 600 active ingredients, available in the Canadian marketplace.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency is required to re-evaluate the safety of registered pesticides every 15 years. Ninety-five percent of the Agency’s re-evaluations result in additional precautions to protect human health or the environment.

During the period under audit, the Agency completed some 14 re-evaluations per year. At the end of our audit, more than six times that number remained incomplete. With more re-evaluations due to start each year, the Agency needs to quicken its pace to prevent unacceptable risks to people and the environment from the unsafe use of pesticide products.

I am also concerned that it took the Agency an average of five years—and up to 11 years—to remove some pesticides from the market when it determined that they posed unacceptable risks for all uses.

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency may grant a conditional registration when it finds that it needs more information to confirm its assessment of a product’s value, and of the risks to human health or the environment. During the time that a pesticide is conditionally registered, it can be bought and used, and other products containing the same active ingredient may also be marketed.

We found that nine products remained conditionally registered for more than a decade. Eight of these belonged to the neonicotinoid class of pesticides. These products continue to be used extensively in Canada despite widespread concern that they may pose a threat to bees, other pollinators, and broader ecosystems. We did note that the Agency announced that it will no longer grant conditional registrations starting June 1 of this year.

Report 2—Oversight of Federally Regulated Pipelines

Our second audit examined the National Energy Board’s oversight of federally regulated pipelines. The Energy Board sets the requirements that companies must satisfy to ensure the safe operation of some 73,000 kilometers of pipelines that are used to transport oil and gas to customers in Canada and abroad.

Our audit concluded that the Board did not adequately track companies’ implementation of pipeline approval conditions, and that it was not consistently following up on company deficiencies. We found that the Board’s tracking systems were outdated and inefficient.

We also concluded that the National Energy Board is facing on-going challenges to recruit and retain specialists in pipeline integrity and regulatory compliance.

With the anticipated increase of pipeline capacity and the coming into force of the Pipeline Safety Act by June 2016, it is clear that the National Energy Board needs to do more to keep pace with the rapidly changing context in which it is operating.

Report 3—Departmental Progress in Implementing Sustainable Development Strategies

Our final audit examined selected departments’ progress in meeting the commitments made in their sustainable development strategies to strengthen their strategic environmental assessment practices.

Cabinet has required since 1990 that 26 government departments and agencies carry out strategic environmental assessments of the proposed programs and policies they submit to ministers when implementation could have important positive or negative impacts on the environment.

In our 2015 audit, we found that the current Cabinet directive was applied to only five of the more than 1,700 proposals submitted to ministers responsible for Agriculture Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Heritage Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This means, for example, that no information about potential important environmental effects was provided to support the proposal for the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Similarly, the Cabinet directive was not applied to the proposed transfer, for the purposes of building a hospital, of 60 acres of land of designated historic importance.

Report 4—Environmental Petitions Annual Report

We also presented Parliament with our annual report on environmental petitions. These petitions are an important mechanism created by Parliament as a way for Canadians to get answers from federal ministers to their questions relating to the environment and sustainable development.

Our Office received 15 environmental petitions on a range of topics, including the transport of hazardous substances and concerns about human and environmental health.

In 97 percent of cases, departments and agencies provided their responses within the 120-day statutory deadline. Overall, these responses were complete and relevant.

Past petitions have prompted such action by federal departments as new environmental projects, follow-up on alleged violations, and changes or clarifications in policies and practices. I encourage Canadians to use this important mechanism.

Finally, as you know, we provide Parliament with information that can be used by parliamentary committees when they conduct hearings on our reports or on audit related topics. To help you in this capacity, I have attached to my opening statement a list of questions you may wish to ask department officials should such hearings take place. I hope you will find this information useful.

Madam Chair that concludes my opening remarks. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.

List of questions that Parliamentarians may wish to ask department officials to help guide them in their review of the 2015 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Report 1—Pesticide Safety

Report 2—Oversight of Federally Regulated Pipelines

Report 3—Departmental Progress in Implementing Sustainable Development Strategies