Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement—2020 Fall Reports Press Conference

2020 Fall Reports of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the Parliament of CanadaCommissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s Opening Statement

Good morning. My name is Andrew Hayes, and I am the interim commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. I am pleased to be here this morning to discuss the 3 reports that we provided to Parliament earlier today. I will start with a brief overview of each report.

The first of our reports follows up on specific recommendations from audits focusing on the transportation of dangerous goods that we completed in 2011 and 2015. Dangerous goods are solids, liquids or gases that can harm human health or the environment if they are spilled or otherwise released. Examples include crude oil and petroleum products, toxic and explosive gases, flammable and infectious substances, radioactive material, and corrosive chemicals.

These goods move throughout Canada by rail, road, ship, air, and pipeline, and special precautions are necessary to avoid spills or releases. It is the job of Transport Canada to monitor and enforce transporters’ compliance with laws and standards that are meant to ensure that dangerous goods are transported safely. The Canada Energy Regulator plays a similar role by overseeing federally regulated oil and gas pipelines.

Acting on the recommendations we made in 2011, Transport Canada strengthened some of its policies, procedures, systems, and guidance. However, the department still has more work to do to address problems with inspections and emergency plans that we raised almost a decade ago.

For example, we found that the department still did not systematically follow up to ensure that companies addressed violations identified through inspections. In addition, the department had not given final approval to many companies’ plans to respond to emergencies.

We also found that although Transport Canada had developed and implemented a national risk-based process to select companies for inspection, this system was based on incomplete and outdated information.

With respect to pipelines, we found that the Canada Energy Regulator had largely implemented our recommendations from 2015 and improved its oversight of companies that build and operate pipelines. For example, the regulator improved the tracking and documenting of compliance oversight activities, and it improved its follow-ups to ensure that companies took corrective action to address non-compliance.

I am going to turn now to our second report, which focuses on our review and assessment of the extent to which 12 federal departments and agencies contributed to the goal of safe and healthy communities set out in the federal government’s 2016–2019 sustainable development strategy. The federal goal includes actions to improve air quality, protect Canadians from harmful substances, and prevent environmental emergencies or mitigate their impact.

Overall, the 12 organizations supported activities the actions set out in the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. However, their reporting was sometimes unclear or incomplete, making it difficult to gain a clear sense of overall progress.

For example, departments and agencies did not report activities to implement 2 federal actions relating to outdoor air quality. For others, departments did not always state clearly or completely what they aimed to achieve. Clear and complete reporting is important to assess whether departments’ efforts are supporting the achievement of Canada’s sustainable development goals.

This fall release is rounded off by our annual report on environmental petitions. Between July 2019 and June 2020, we received petitions on a wide variety of issues, including pollution from plastics and toxic substances. Concerns about climate change, endangered fisheries, genetically modified fish, nuclear regulation, textile waste, and wolf reduction programs were also brought forward.

Petitions are an important mechanism that Parliament put in place to give Canadians a simple yet formal way to get answers from federal ministers to their questions on environmental and sustainable development issues. This year’s report includes a case study illustrating how a 2019 petition has resulted in the retrieval of discarded toxic batteries in and around the Upper St. Lawrence River.

I am now ready to answer your questions, thank you.