I call this meeting to order.
First I want to apologize that we are running behind schedule. We just had votes in the House. Members will continue to drift in, but we have quorum and we'll get moving.
We have before us today, pursuant to Standing Order 32(5), the fall 2010 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, which was referred to this committee yesterday.
Joining us from the Office of the Auditor General is the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan.
With him is the principal for sustainable development strategies, audits and studies, Jim McKenzie.
Joining us from the Department of the Environment we have Michael Keenan, assistant deputy minister, strategic policy branch; Jim Abraham, director general, weather and environmental monitoring; and Dan Wicklum, director general, water science and technology.
From the DFO we have Jody Thomas, deputy commissioner, operations, Canadian Coast Guard.
From the Department of Health there is Paul Glover, assistant deputy minister, healthy environments and consumer safety branch.
From the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development we have Sheila Gariepy, director, environment and renewable resources directorate, northern affairs.
From the Department of Natural Resources we have David Boerner, the acting assistant deputy minister, earth sciences sector.
From the Department of Transport we have Gerard McDonald, assistant deputy minister, safety and security.
Not all departments are sitting at the table, but they are here to take questions if members have questions of their specific departments based on the commissioner's report.
We have four presentations before we take questions from members of the committee.
Commissioner Vaughan, please kick us off, and keep your opening comments to less than 10 minutes.
Mr. Chair, good afternoon, and thank you for inviting us.
I'm pleased to present to the committee our 2010 fall report that was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday. I'm accompanied by senior colleagues Jim McKenzie, Andrew Ferguson, and Richard Arseneault.
Our report examines a number of areas, ranging from oil spills from ships to fresh water monitoring and climate change impacts.
It points to some common and long-standing weaknesses in the way the government has been managing environmental issues, from a lack of critical data to inadequate information about key environmental threats, to a lack of plans to tackle those threats.
Over the years the government has made repeated commitments to take the lead in protecting the environment and moving toward sustainable development. Sustained leadership is necessary to successfully address the weaknesses we have reported time and time again.
The first chapter in the report examines the government’s readiness to respond to oil spills from ships. Every day, on average, at least one oil spill is reported to the Canadian Coast Guard and it responds. Fortunately, most spills are small. However, given the findings of this audit, I am troubled that the government is not ready to respond to a major oil spill.
We found that the Canadian Coast Guard’s national emergency management plan is out-of-date, and the organization has not fully assessed its response capacity in over a decade.
Although Transport Canada assesses private sector response organizations to verify their readiness to respond to spills, a similar process is not in place for the Coast Guard.
We also found that because the Coast Guard does not have a reliable system to track spills, it cannot accurately determine the number of spills that occur each year, their size and their environmental impacts.
We note several areas of concern, from incomplete risk assessments to out-of-date emergency plans. These must be addressed to ensure that the federal government is ready to respond to any ship-source oil spill occurring in Canadian waters.
In chapter 2 we examine how Environment Canada is tracking the quality and quantity of Canada’s freshwater resources through its long-term, fresh water monitoring programs. Environment Canada has been running the federal government’s water monitoring programs for 40 years, yet it has not taken such basic steps as defining its responsibilities and responding to the threats to Canada’s water resources that it itself has identified.
Environment Canada is not monitoring water quality on most federal lands, and it does not know what monitoring, if any, is being done by other federal departments on those lands.
The department has assessed the changing risks that threaten Canada’s freshwater resources, but it has not adjusted its monitoring networks to respond to industrial development, climate change and population growth in certain regions.
Environment Canada should update its assessment of the threats facing Canada’s water resources, from climate change to impacts on human health, so that it can manage its network to understand and respond to the greatest threats.
In chapter 3, we focus on the federal role in adapting to the impacts of climate change. The government has stated that climate change impacts are inevitable, and are already happening. The health of Canadians and Canada’s natural environment, communities, and economy are vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, and the government is not ready to respond to them.
The lack of a federal strategy and action plan has hindered departments' efforts at coordinating actions to address the effects of climate change. The departments we selected for analysis have identified the risk they may face because of climate change, but they have taken little concrete action to adapt to the potential impacts. Adapting to climate change requires sustained leadership that includes a federal strategy and plan comprising concrete actions both to inform Canadians of climate impacts and to help them adapt to our changing climate.
Mr. Chair, the final chapter of our annual report is on environmental petitions. The petitions process was created in 1995 to provide Canadians with a simple yet formal way to raise concerns and get answers directly from federal ministers on questions about environmental issues.
We received 18 petitions this year.
Health impacts of environmental issues were once again the topic most often raised, followed by toxic substances, fisheries, and water.
Mr. Chair, I've terminated my opening statement and would be pleased to answer questions.
My name is Gerard McDonald, and I'm the assistant deputy minister of safety and security at Transport Canada. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here today to discuss ongoing improvements to environmental programs and policies that fall under my purview.
My discussion today surrounds chapter 1 of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's report, “Oil Spills from Ships”. I would like to extend my gratitude to the commissioner and his staff, because the report is an integral part of our plan to continuously improve and deliver on our objectives.
With me today are my colleagues from Environment Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. I would like to speak to you about the government-industry partnership known as Canada's marine oil spill preparedness and response regime and its initial response to oil pollution from ships.
Established in 1995, the regime sets out guidelines and a regulatory structure in order to prepare and respond to marine oil spills, and it is based on the “polluter pays” principle.
Transport Canada is the lead regulatory agency, and is responsible for the governance, the overall management, and oversight of the regime.
We play a vital role in monitoring marine activity levels, conduct risks assessments, and make adjustments to the regime as required.
Transport Canada develops and enforces standards to better protect our environment, and through regulations, ensures that the appropriate level of preparedness is available to respond to marine oil pollution incidents in Canada within prescribed time standards and operating environments.
In addition to bringing regulations into effect, Transport Canada strictly enforces pollution prevention regulations through the inspection of ships for compliance with pollution prevention provisions, and through the investigation of pollution incidents.
Transport Canada can also lay charges against anyone who does not comply with the regulations and can issue administrative monetary penalties for being non-compliant with the legislation. Administrative monetary penalties provide a way outside the courts to enforce our laws. They make the Transport Canada enforcement program more effective and in turn can help improve the safety of the marine community, the marine environment, and ultimately the general public.
The partnerships we have in place are instrumental in accelerating the development of mutually beneficial programs, policies, and goals. Canada's national marine oil spill preparedness and response regime is an excellent example of such a partnership. Industry plays a major role in the success of the regime because they have an obligation to ensure an effective level of preparedness and response to an oil spill through compliance with regulatory requirements and successful collaboration with the government. Response to oil spills in Canada is always a combined effort between industry and federal, provincial, and municipal governments and regulators, as well as response organizations.
However, polluters are ultimately responsible for the spills they cause, and remain responsible for the containment and cleanup of a marine oil spill. That is why the Regime is based on the polluter-pay principle.
As one of the partners working with the regime, the Canadian Coast Guard also plays a vital role and will monitor clean-up activities of the polluter, or take over clean-up efforts in situations when the polluter is unknown, unwilling, or unable to respond.
Prevention of oil spills is a priority for the Government of Canada, and the regime has proven to be an extremely effective system that tributes to preventative measures, and ensures an effective response when an oil spill from ships occur.
I want to be very clear when I say that the Government of Canada is well prepared and ready to respond to ship-source oil spills in Canadian waters. We have been doing so for many years, and we will continue to effectively respond to ship-source oil spill emergencies. The regime is a system that ensures cleaner water and enables a timely reaction in the event of an oil spill incident or accident.
I am proud to say that Transport Canada and our partners from both government and industry are committed to continue building on Canada's national marine oil spill preparedness and response regime. We are always working with our partners to improve how this regime functions and, if possible, to provide a more efficient response to oil spills from ships in Canadian waters.
On the recommendation that Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard conduct a national risk assessment related to ship-source oil spills, Transport Canada has pledged to work with our partners to build on risk assessments for all three coasts. Scoping of this risk assessment will begin this year and it will be completed by the end of fiscal year 2011-12.
To speak to the second recommendation, Transport Canada recognizes the need for up-to-date emergency management plans, and has committed to review and update our plans annually.
Transport Canada has recently reviewed our Environmental Prevention and Response National Preparedness Plan. Regarding the recommendation to facilitate a hazardous and noxious substance regime in Canada, we will work with our key partners on this front on developing necessary systems and procedures.
This will complement the work that is already under way to develop a national HNS incident preparedness and response regime. Transport Canada assures Canadians that we are taking action to deliver on our environmental priorities. In light of the recommendations made, we are committed to build on our national marine oil spill preparedness and response regime, as well as risk assessments for preparedness and response efforts to oil spills from ships.
Globalization has opened many markets and increased shipping and trade on a world scale. In turn, this has complicated marine transportation, as factors such as varying activity volumes, vessel types, and increase in the transportation of various hazardous substances are inevitably involved. However, as it stands today, should an HNS incident occur in our waters, the Government of Canada is prepared and ready to respond to ship-source oil pollution. The Canadian Coast Guard, through its national response team, would fulfill a coordination role to monitor the incident and manage cleanup activities. Environment Canada and the industry may also be called upon to contribute to the response efforts.
The complexity of global shipping means there is greater potential for an HNS incident to occur in our waters, which is why there is also a need to work toward the creation of a global framework that can help combat HNS emergencies. Most importantly, a successful global framework will serve as a guiding principle. It will enable Canada to develop an HNS regime to better protect our waters, and in turn it will allow Canada to support conventions and protocols that have been established internationally.
In order to be successful, any regime that Canada develops must be consistent with international conventions and protocols, including the OPRC-HNS protocol, in other words, the protocol on preparedness, response, and cooperation to pollution incidents by hazardous and noxious substances. This will require a great deal of cooperation and coordination at the national and international levels, which will continue to take time to complete.
That being said, work is indeed under way, and some milestones have already been met to move Canada toward an HNS regime.
We examined the chemical regimes of other countries to better understand the complexity of development and application, and we will continue to study what type of chemicals are transported to and from Canada, to help us better define the scope of a successful national framework.
We have invested valuable time to research and analyze related reports and previous initiatives regarding the development of a marine chemical . emergency response regime.
As well, materials to facilitate national consultations have been developed to provide an overview of an HNS regime to stakeholders, and to present the benefits of such a regime.
We are working within Transport Canada and with our government partners on both the accession of the OPRC-HNS protocol and the ratification of the HNS convention on liability and compensation. We have received and are still expecting multiple reports on the trade and traffic of HNS from the marine transportation sector in Canada.
Lastly, we have partnered with the Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution to create an HNS educational guide for the general public. The milestones we have been able to achieve add to the fundamental objective of creating a global HNS regime that will help mitigate the environmental impacts of HNS incidents on our water and ensure the protection and safety of the public.
In closing, I look forward to seeing the long-term benefits of having effective regimes in Canada, a national oil spill preparedness and response regime that aims to continuously improve the safety of our marine communities, and better protection of our environment, as well as a global HNS regime that would lead to the development of a national framework in Canada.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak today. I look forward to responding to your questions.
Good afternoon. My name is Jody Thomas, and I'm the deputy commissioner of operations with the Canadian Coast Guard.
Thank you for the invitation to appear today to discuss the first chapter of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's annual report entitled “Oil Spills from Ships”.
I would like to start by thanking the commissioner and his dedicated staff for the recommendations directed at the coast guard in the chapter on oil spills from ships. I would equally like to clarify that the main objective of the audit was to assess the management framework of the coast guard's environmental response program.
The commissioner did not audit the operational delivery of the program or actual environmental response activities related to incidents on the water.
As my colleague from Transport Canada has just explained, Canada's marine oil spill preparedness response regime outlines the framework for industry to be responsible to clean up their own oil spills. Transport Canada is responsible for the regulatory aspects of the regime, while the Canadian Coast Guard is the lead federal agency responsible to ensure an appropriate response to ship-source spills.
In normal situations where a shipowner is responding to a spill, the coast guard will monitor the activities of the shipowner to ensure that actions are taken to the satisfaction of the Government of Canada. However, if a shipowner is either unwilling or unable to respond, or if he is unknown, the coast guard will take action to ensure there is an appropriate response, either using our own equipment or through a private company such as a response organization.
The Canadian Coast Guard responds to an average of 1,300 pollution incidents per year and works with federal, provincial, and industry partners to ensure an appropriate response to all incidents. To date, the Canadian Coast Guard has responded to every pollution event of which it has been notified.
This summer, in addition to responding to the grounding of two vessels in the Arctic, the coast guard responded to 86 reported marine pollution events nationally between August 28 and September 15.
Canadians can be assured that if faced with a major spill, the Canadian Coast Guard will provide all available resources and cooperate with its federal, provincial, industry, and international partners to help minimize the impacts to the marine environment.
Overall, the Canadian Coast Guard agrees with the commissioner’s recommendations for improvements to its administrative processes related to the environmental response program.
Work is underway to make improvements in the areas of risk assessment, updating emergency management plans, and establishing national procedures for documenting results of spill responses.
To effect this work, within coast guard we have created a new environmental response branch under the leadership of a dedicated director. As well, the coast guard and Transport Canada have begun, as you've heard, a scoping exercise to update previous risk assessments.
Further, while the audit notes that several coast guard governance documents are not up to date, as part of our day-to-day business we have made management decisions to ensure response equipment is strategically positioned in locations based on our current and evolving understanding of risk. Risk is not static, and neither is our approach. For example, in Placentia Bay, the coast guard has placed caches of first response equipment commensurate with an increase in vessel tanker traffic.
The coast guard will have a national environmental response strategy in place by spring 2011. This strategy will be supplemented by the development of a national response policy and plans for directing Canadian Coast Guard efforts, including those related to a major incident, and will establish a periodic review process to ensure that its national and regional emergency management plans remain accurate and relevant. This review process will be in place by spring of 2012.
The Coast Guard will continue to improve our management processes and we will continue to ensure that the quality environmental protection measures the Canadian public has come to expect from this national institution continue to be strengthened
Thank you very much. I look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for this opportunity to speak to the standing committee about the report tabled in Parliament yesterday by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
I would also thank the commissioner for his report. I welcome his input because it is important to effectively implement the federal government's environmental policies and programs.
I am going to briefly outline action by Environment Canada that is either already underway or planned to address the issues that the commissioner raised in the second and third chapters.
With respect to chapter 2, entitled “Monitoring Water Resources”, Environment Canada has implemented a strong, comprehensive approach to protect Canada's waters and has taken concrete and measurable actions to implement that approach. The department's plan includes investments in monitoring, water science, research and technology, cleanup of problem areas, as well as building key partnerships. For example, through the action plan for clean water, Environment Canada supports investments to clean up and restore Lake Winnipeg, Lake Simcoe, and several areas of concern in the Great Lakes. The department also continues to work with the Quebec government to protect the St. Lawrence. Environment Canada, along with its partners, is also developing wastewater system effluent regulations to phase out the dumping of untreated and undertreated sewage into Canadian waterways.
The department has reviewed the commissioner's recommendations and officials have already begun taking steps to address the issues raised.
First, Environment Canada will update the inventory of federal lands and waters of federal interest. Second, the department will review and improve criteria used to assess water monitoring needs and on an ongoing basis will continue to share information with federal stakeholders. Third, Environment Canada will work with other federal departments, including the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, to clarify and document roles and responsibilities for long-term water quality and quantity monitoring. In addition, the department plans to use the 2008 World Meteorological Organization guidelines, as well as other benchmarks as appropriate, for water monitoring networks.
Environment Canada will continue to improve reporting of the status of water quality through the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators program and by using the water quality index set out by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
Finally, the department will maintain its national ISO certification and continue to apply the performance measurement principles of “plan, do, check, and improve” to water quantity monitoring. We will continue to incorporate best regional practices into departmental water quality monitoring activities across the country.
With respect to chapter 3, “Adapting to Climate Impacts”, Environment Canada agrees with all the recommendations and is working toward addressing them.
To provide context, in 2007 the government announced an investment of $85.9 million in adaptation programming. Investments went toward research to improve climate change scenarios in Canada and developing pilot alert and response systems to protect the health of Canadians from infectious disease, to name a few. For example, throughout this programming, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is funding initiatives to assist northerners in assessing key vulnerabilities and opportunities for adaptation. Natural Resources Canada is also developing and disseminating management tools in supporting regional adaptation programs.
Internationally, Canada is investing $45 million this fiscal year for adaptation programming as part of the $400 million in fast-start financing under the Copenhagen Accord to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.
Departmental officials have outlined a strategy in response to the commissioner's recommendations and have begun to take steps to address the issues raised.
While individual departments continue to develop adaptation tools and best practices according to their primary areas of expertise, Environment Canada will establish an interdepartmental committee to share these tools and best practices across the federal government. Environment Canada has also taken steps to identify the adaptation measures necessary to prepare the department for risks that climate change presents for its areas of responsibility. Lastly, Environment Canada will build on previous and ongoing interdepartmental work to develop a federal adaptation policy framework.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, departments are building on their activities in relation to the environment through credible science, successful partnerships, and a commitment to high-quality service delivery to Canadians.
My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer questions at the committee's pleasure.
Good afternoon. This is the first time I have sat on the Standing Committee on the Environment. I am replacing my colleague Bernard Bigras who is in Cancún at the moment.
I am pleased to be here because there is an issue that is very important to me, and that is the issue of water contamination in Shannon.
In chapter 2, you talk about water monitoring. You make a somewhat disturbing observation. You say that the government has not defined its responsibilities in relation to water monitoring on federal lands, and that Environment Canada does not verify the data collected under the water quality monitoring program.
I am in contact with the Shannon residents' association, which has had to bring a class action against the government in relation to water contamination. I would first like to address Mr. McDonald, who is the assistant deputy minister of Transport.
Just now, Mr. Keenan said there was a basic principle in the department's responsibilities called "polluter-pay". I want to know whether the same basic principle applies to the environment. Because it is a lot easier to bring an action against an offender, an individual, than it is for an individual to do it against a government. I know something about that from the Shannon committee that has had to turn to other resources.
The residents' committee has had a lot of trouble getting data about the analyses that have been done. In fact, I had the support of all of the opposition in the House to get the documents produced.
A lot of departments have responsibilities relating to this contamination. There are National Defence and the environment department, for the water analyses. When there are several departments, how can we require that there be coordination, in the case of actions against the government, for example to make the job of the people bringing the action easier, when they want to get data and have accurate facts about the water they drink everyday?
The water has been contaminated by trichloroethylene for several years, and people didn't know about the quality of the water they were drinking everyday. There have been consequences. There has been a rise in cancer. In fact, the Department of Health also comes into this. So it lands on several doorsteps.
Would you have any recommendations to make? Also, have you observed the extent of the problem with the quality of this water, which is undrinkable and unfit for consumption?
I'll answer the question this way. We're a science organization. We always think we can do better, and we're always prepared to take advice, such as we get from the commissioner, and use it where applicable and get better.
I would say that the data the commissioner looked at is essentially long-term water quality monitoring from Environment Canada. Even inside the suite of other organizations that collect long-term water quality, it's still actually only a very small part of the data that are collected. We have another whole type of monitoring that we do in Environment Canada, a formula that we call “surveillance monitoring”. It's short-term monitoring. We use it to ask very specific questions quickly and then reallocate our resources onto other, more high-priority areas.
For example, right now we're in the middle of doing surveillance monitoring in groundwater on the Athabasca River on almost 100 sites. This actually is a very large part of the additional work we're doing as a result of oil sands activity. We have quite a scientific challenge in the Athabasca, because you can go into the river and you can find toxic things, naphthenic acids and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, for example, but you can't definitively say whether they're coming from a natural source or from an anthropogenic or man-made source. The reason there's an oil sands mining sector there is because there are oil sands and the Athabasca River cuts through those oil sands directly. You can go there, down onto the banks of that river, and you can actually watch bitumen follow the bank of the river, into the river, and in all of the tributaries as well.
This is a scientific challenge, and when we find things, we have to be able to attribute the source. So we started about 18 months ago what we call a fingerprinting operation, investing significantly. We have an additional $1.6 million that we're investing in this whole program. The goal is to identify unique substances that occur only because of man-made structures or processing of oil sands. This is going to allow us actually to go in and essentially say, yes, this toxic compound at this concentration in the river came from the oil sands operations or mining activity.
We actually do a lot more than that. We have a lot of toxicity testing, so we have a whole suite of organisms that we use to test how toxic tailings ponds effluents are, how toxic the tailings ponds sediments are. Then we actually go into the river and do the same thing. So are there any toxic effects in the river and actually in the water or in the sediments? At this point we just can't find any.
So we actually have quite a broad suite of science activities that we do. We do these in partnership also with other types of multi-stakeholder groups. We talked about RAMP and the long-term water quality monitoring in the river. They actually monitor the water quality in what we call “acid-sensitive lakes”, up to 50 lakes around the area as well.
There's also another multi-stakeholder group called the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, which essentially performs the same function that RAMP does, but for the atmosphere. In a multi-stakeholder setting, it takes a look at air quality and aerial deposition that potentially could happen on the land base. Then we're tracking to see whether or not any of that deposition gets into the river itself through snow melt.
So we actually have what we feel is a very comprehensive science program.
From a water quality perspective, what we've found in the audit is that the department has water quality monitoring agreements federally with British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland, and no such provincial-level agreements with any of the other provinces for water quality monitoring.
What we also looked at in the audit was whether the department, which purports to have a program for monitoring the status of Canada's rivers and lakes and trends in aquatic ecosystem health, had the data and the information necessary to do it at a national level. We recognize that there are lots of provincial and proprietary data bases available, but we found that this data is not integrated at a national level to provide the federal government with the capacity to understand the status of Canada's freshwater resources or trends in aquatic ecosystem health.
So it's at this higher level that we were looking at the department's activities.
There is a lot of monitoring going on. It's disaggregated, the quality of the data is questionable, and there is no capacity at the federal level to understand the idea of the status of these lakes or trends in aquatic ecosystem health.
In this case in Winnipeg, it was in 2006 that the province requested the federal government to get involved. The federal government has gotten involved and has provided some budgeting, as has been mentioned today, for cleanup activities.
The purpose of these programs is to get ahead of the curve, to understand emerging trends before they become problems, so that they can be dealt with proactively. We don't see, in this case, that this has happened.
I have been requesting since 2004 to have the study done on Lake Winnipeg, so I'm glad it did start happening in 2007.
The one criticism I have is that in the commentary you provided on the case study on Lake Winnipeg, they said there were suspicions about nutrient loading from agricultural activity. It's not just agriculture. Municipalities' dumping of effluent is a big concern throughout the entire watershed, especially coming up the Red River, from the United States as well. So that was a concern.
But I want to ask Mr. Wicklum a question, because I believe he's been working on this as well, overseeing.
I just finished having a really good public meeting in Gimli about the Lake Winnipeg basin initiative. Environment Canada scientists were there explaining all the great work they're doing along with all the different partners they have in the project.
This summer I had the opportunity to go out on the Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium platform in the ship Namao. Environment Canada was on board, and they were dropping rosettes and doing water quality monitoring all through the basin; they were out there for a few months. It's not just that they have a station. They have people on board a ship going up and down the lake, finding out where we have algae problems, looking at aquatic species, and also looking at the nutrient loads and doing that analysis.
I wonder if you have anything to add.
Manitoba Water Stewardship was on board, as well as the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. So you have various community groups and people who are concerned, working alongside both the province and the federal government.