2019 Spring Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

2019 Spring Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

8 April 2019

Julie Gelfand
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here today to discuss our Spring 2019 reports, which were tabled in the House of Commons last Tuesday. I am accompanied by Kimberley Leach, Sharon Clark and Heather Miller.

Our first audit focused on aquatic invasive species. This includes everything from zebra mussels to Asian carp and green crabs. These species are introduced into Canadian waters by ships, recreational boats, and trade. They compete with native species for food and habitat, and they have negative impacts on ecosystems and economic activities like fisheries and tourism. They can damage beaches and docks, build up in water intake pipes and cause problems in hydro-electric facilities.

We found that despite long-standing commitments to do so, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency had not taken the steps required to prevent invading species from becoming established in Canadian waters.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada didn’t know which species or pathways posed the greatest threats to Canada’s environment and economy. They didn’t know which species or pathways to monitor. And they didn’t have an overall picture of which species had become established or where. Fisheries and Oceans Canada had only developed one plan to respond rapidly to an invasion, and this was for four species of Asian carp.

In addition, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency did not adequately enforce the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations. This was in part because they did not sufficiently support fishery and border services officers.

Let’s turn now to our second audit, which focused on the federal government’s role in protecting fish and their habitat from waste and effluent released into water at active mine sites.

Environment and Climate Change Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada determine whether a natural water body can be used to store waste from mines. We found that the departments adequately reviewed storage options, consulted local and indigenous communities, and did not authorize any deposit unless the mining companies met all the necessary conditions.

Metal mines such as zinc, copper, nickel and now diamond mines are authorized to release certain concentrations of specific harmful substances in their releases of effluent. We found that Environment and Climate Change Canada monitored the environmental effects of this effluent on fish. They provided technical guidance, they collected and verified the information, and they used this data to introduce stricter effluent limits.

Environment and Climate Change Canada reported high compliance with effluent limits by metal mines. However, we were concerned that the Department’s reporting was not comprehensive because it did not have complete information for roughly a third of the mines. We also recommended other improvements, including that public reporting about environmental effects provide the location of mines and that measures be considered when environmental monitoring shows that effluent is affecting fish, for example through changes in growth rates.

We examined the oversight of non metal mines as well. These include potash, coal and oil sands mines. Environment and Climate Change Canada did not consider the risks of non-metal mines to decide how often and which sites to inspect. We found that non metal mines were inspected less frequently than metal mines. In our view, inspecting non-metal mines regularly is important because these mines are not authorized to release any effluent that may be harmful to fish or their habitat.

I will now turn to our last two reports, which focused on subsidies to the fossil fuels sector. The first deals with tax subsidies, and the second, with non-tax subsidies, such as grants or loans at favourable rates. This issue is important because Canada and other countries have committed, through the United Nations and the Group of 20G20, to phase out inefficient fossil fuels subsidies.

For both Environment and Climate Change Canada and Finance Canada, we found that their definition of “inefficient” was so broad that it could not guide their work.

We found that Finance Canada’s assessments of whether tax subsidies were inefficient focused almost exclusively on fiscal and economic considerations—they did not include adequate consideration of social and environmental issues.

On the non-tax subsidy side, we found that Environment and Climate Change Canada’s work to identify inefficient fossil fuels subsidies was incomplete.

The Department considered only 23 of over 200 federal organizations to compile an inventory of potential non-tax subsidies. It did not include all regulatory organizations with mandates in the fossil fuels sector, nor did it include all research granting organizations. It also did not include publicly-funded projects that were designed to, for example, increase production of fossil fuels.

These four reports conclude my time as the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, as I will be leaving the position in the fall.

It has been a great honor to serve in this role. I hope that parliamentarians and Canadians find these reports and recommendations useful and worthy of follow-up now and in the future.

Mr. Chair this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.