Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm pleased to present today my fall 2014 report, which was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday.
I'm accompanied by Kimberley Leach, Bruce Sloan, Andrew Ferguson, and Jim McKenzie, who are the principals responsible for the audits in our report.
The audits I'm reporting on today underscore that the government does not have the answers to many questions that impact the future of sustainable development in Canada. When we last looked at climate change commitments in 2012, we concluded that the government's approach to introducing regulations sector by sector was unlikely to reduce emissions enough to meet the Copenhagen target.
Under the Copenhagen Accord, Canada committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Our most recent audit showed that little has changed over the last two years. We found that federal measures currently in place will have little effect on emissions by 2020.
The government has introduced regulations in the transportation and electricity generation sectors. However, regulations in the oil and gas sector—where emissions are growing the fastest—are still not in place eight years after the government first indicated it would regulate this area.
There is strong evidence that Canada will not meet its international greenhouse gas 2020 emission reduction target. The federal government does not have an overall plan that maps out how Canada will achieve this target. Canadians have not been given the details about which regulations will be developed, when, or what greenhouse gas reductions will be expected.
Finally, the federal government has not provided the necessary coordination so that all levels of government working together can achieve the national target by 2020.
Let's turn now to our audit of oil sands monitoring, where the federal government is working with the Province of Alberta to lay the groundwork for more comprehensive monitoring of the environmental effects of oil sands development. Our audit examined Environment Canada's performance under the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands. We found that overall Environment Canada implemented the monitoring projects we examined on time and on budget.
Nonetheless, there remains work to be done. The monitoring information resulting from the projects that are looking at air, water, and biodiversity needs to be better integrated to understand the long-term environmental effects of oil sands development, including cumulative impacts. Environment Canada needs to do a better job of integrating traditional ecological knowledge and engaging first nations, Métis, and other groups. Finally, stakeholders are looking to understand Environment Canada's role in oil sands monitoring beyond March 2015.
Our next audit focused on the services that Environment Canada, Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada provide to support marine navigation in the Arctic. While we found that weather and ice information has improved, we also noted gaps and emerging risks that, if left unaddressed, will only grow as marine traffic increases in the Arctic.
For example, many high-risk areas in the Canadian Arctic are inadequately surveyed and charted. Some of the maps and charts for the Arctic are over 40 years old, and less than a quarter are rated as being "good" by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
In addition, the Canadian Coast Guard is having difficulty responding to requests from the shipping industry for new or modified aids to navigation such as beacons and shore lights.
Furthermore, the coast guard has not assessed the risks associated with decreasing icebreaking presence in the Arctic. I'm concerned that there seems to be no overall vision of what the federal government intends to provide in this vast new frontier in terms of modern charts, aids to navigation, and icebreaker services given the anticipated increase in vessel traffic.
ln another audit, we examined whether the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are taking steps to implement the new 2012 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
We noted two areas of concern where achieving the objectives of the act are at risk.
The first is that the rationale for recommending projects for environmental assessment is unclear. I am concerned that some significant projects may not be assessed and that decision-makers may not receive the information they need to address environmental impacts.
Our second concern relates to public participation. An objective of the new act was to increase aboriginal engagement. Many groups, including aboriginal peoples, are concerned that they do not have the capacity to participate meaningfully. This reduces the contribution these groups can make and may diminish public confidence in environmental assessments.
The last audit covered in this report is part of our annual monitoring of how departments are implementing their sustainable development commitments. This year we focused on the use of strategic environmental assessments by selected departments to integrate environmental considerations into their proposals to cabinet and Treasury Board.
While processes have improved, there is still a risk that ministers are not getting complete information on the environmental impacts, both positive and negative, of proposed programs, plans, and policies.
I am also pleased to present our annual report on environmental petitions. This year, we received 16 petitions requesting information from government ministers on a range of environmental topics, including the management of fisheries and threats to environmental and human health posed by toxic substances.
To sum up, as this year's audits show, despite good initiatives and progress in certain areas, there remain many unanswered questions. ln many key areas that we looked at, it is not clear how the government intends to address the significant environmental challenges that future growth and development will likely bring about.
Among other questions, the government does not know what Environment Canada's role will be in oil sands monitoring beyond March 2015. It has not made clear the rationale for which projects will be subject to environmental assessments, and I am concerned that some significant projects may not be assessed.
It has also not determined what level of service it will provide in the Arctic to support increased navigation and minimize environmental and safety risks. As well, it has not defined a national plan with the provinces and territories to achieve Canada's international greenhouse gas emission reduction target.
I expect the government to have the answers to these questions, and in my report I have made many recommendations, which the departments have accepted.
I look forward to seeing the initiatives that will be put in place in response.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening remarks.
We are happy to answer any questions you may have.
I wanted to go to chapter 2, recommendation 2.50, with respect to the Canada-Alberta implementation plan, where it says, “...with due consideration for the extent and nature of the Department’s future involvement”. Mr. Woodworth canvassed this a little bit. Then the department agrees, apparently, that it has to figure out what its future involvement is going to be.
Simultaneously, the Auditor General of Alberta released his comments yesterday about this plan. He said the report lacked clarity and key information and contained inaccuracies. He said that it was disturbing that the report covering the year ending March 31, 2013 was not released until June of this year, nine months after the targeted release date, and that the lack of timeliness made the report less relevant, etc.
It goes on to comment that you, in a separate report—that's the report you just released—took a more positive view toward the joint monitoring program, and then it includes a quote.
Did you have any conversations with the Auditor General of Alberta about this particular program?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and it's terrific to see you here. Congratulations, Commissioner, on your appointment. It was a great first report.
I would like to go to chapter 4 and one of my favourite subjects, equivalency. I would have to say right off the bat on section 4.58 I'm a little stunned at your finding that the agency has ensured conditions in place for substituting provincial for federal ones. The reason I'm a little stunned by that conclusion is in your report at 4.61 you state that the agency has not even yet developed practices or conditions that would allow them to even assess whether or not a provincial review process could replace a federal one.
As I understand only British Columbia, according to your report, has an MOU. This has been an ongoing debate going right back to Minister Sheila Copps at a meeting in Whitehorse where two ministers duked it out.
I'm concerned about this because we have a clear Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Oldman case that the federal government does share jurisdiction over the environment. An obvious place is transboundary impacts, impacts on first nations and Métis or Inuit, and fisheries, unilateral federal jurisdiction, which the provincial government cannot make a ruling on or regulate in. The provincial boards have been very clear on that.
Secondly, you have also identified in your report on both environmental assessment and monitoring that there has been some failure in meaningful participation of first nations and Métis.
Thirdly, to just give you one example, at the recent TransCanada pipeline hearing in Alberta, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation was forced to pull out because they were denied initially even access to a review of the environmental assessment report. They wanted to make the determination before it was even released. Then they were given a mere 24 hours to review an extremely complex report.
With all of that, I look forward to you explaining your finding in 4.58.
First of all, thanks for having us here today.
I'm here today on behalf of our deputy minister, Michael Martin, who could not join us. As you mentioned, Chair, I'm joined by colleagues, ADMs from across the department.
The focus of my remarks will be on the first three chapters of the commissioner's report, which address mitigating climate change, environmental monitoring, and marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic.
I would first like to thank the new commissioner for her report and acknowledge the co-operation and engagement of those professionals who conducted the audits. The department greatly appreciates their work.
I would also like to point out that Environment Canada has agreed with all the Commissioner's recommendations.
In a review of the government's work on climate change mitigation, the commissioner found that Environment Canada is providing Canadians with robust and methodologically sound information on future greenhouse gas emissions and that our reports and forecasts present information in an objective manner and in accordance with international reporting guidelines.
Environment Canada agrees with the commissioner's recommendations to strengthen its planning process. Climate change is a shared responsibility in Canada. We take our leadership role seriously and will continue working with other departments, other levels of government, stakeholders, and consumers to address this challenge.
As an example, this September, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment agreed to discuss climate change issues on an ongoing basis.
The government's contribution is implementing its sector-by-sector approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To date, action has been taken on two of Canada's largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions: the transportation and electricity sectors.
In 2012, the department introduced regulations that made Canada the first major coal user to ban construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units. These regulations are expected to result in a cumulative reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that amounts to removing 2.6 million vehicles from the road each year over a 21-year period.
In the transportation sector, as a result of the department's regulatory initiatives, it is projected that 2025 model year light-duty vehicles will produce about 50% less greenhouse gas emissions than 2008 vehicles. Moreover, last month, the environment minister announced a series of new initiatives that will increase fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and lower sulphur content in gasoline. The minister also announced the government's intent to take regulatory action to reduce and prevent emissions of hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.
I should point out that several of the department's key policies, such as the regulations for coal-fired power plants and vehicles will also produce significant reductions beyond the 2020 timeframe.
We are making some progress. In 2012 Canada's greenhouse gas emissions were 5.1% lower than they were in 2005, while the economy grew by 10.6% over that same period. Today, Canada's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are at their lowest level since tracking began in 1990. As we continue to move ahead, Environment Canada remains committed to working in concert with the provinces and territories to further these results.
The commissioner also recognizes that the government's fast-start financing initiative is being delivered effectively. The Government of Canada has fully met its financing commitment, having provided $1.2 billion to support a range of climate change projects in more than 60 developing countries, including $680 million to multilateral banks to mobilize private sector investment. As recommended by the commissioner, Environment Canada will continue working with its partners to apply lessons learned from this experience. The department is committed to transparency. It will continue producing forecasts and reports regularly as well as providing Canadians with solid information about greenhouse gas emissions.
Turning to the report's review of environmental monitoring of the oil sands, the commissioner found Environment Canada successful in implementing its oil sands monitoring projects on time and on budget. As the committee members are aware, responsible resource development is a priority and a responsibility of both the federal and provincial governments.
Environment Canada has made significant progress since the launch of the joint implementation plan for oil sands monitoring with Alberta. We are already working with Alberta to define roles past 2015. Likewise, the department is also continuing to look for opportunities to enhance this program. This includes engagement with stakeholders, including first nations and Métis communities in monitoring of the oil sands, which Environment Canada and Alberta have been doing since the start of the joint plan.
Most recently, we have been collaborating on the development of a revised consultation process that seeks to address issues raised by aboriginal people with a view to achieving increased influence of traditional ecological knowledge in monitoring and more opportunities for the identification and effective inclusion of such knowledge.
Finally, I'd like to turn your attention to the commissioner's review of marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic. There was an aspect of this audit that touched on Environment Canada's responsibilities. The commissioner has recognized our support to date for safe marine navigation in the Arctic, pointing to the department's improved weather and ice formation information.
With regard to our observations on the long-term needs for supporting marine navigation in the Arctic, departments are actively working together, in consultation with key stakeholders in Canada's north, to develop a long-term strategy for safe Arctic marine transportation.
Environment Canada will continue to monitor and assess any impacts arising from changes to ice surfaces in the Arctic, as recommended by the commissioner. In keeping with the commissioner's recommendations, Canada is also taking action to ensure enhanced marine safety in the north through its work as the chair of the Arctic Council. It's focusing on safe Arctic shipping and collating a program to enhance safety of cruise ships in the Arctic. As the government moves forward, it intends to continue working with key partners in Canada's north to promote and enhance safe Arctic marine transportation.
That ends my opening remarks. We'll be happy to take questions.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to be here today in support of the committee's consideration of the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development's fall 2014 report on the implementation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.
First, let me thank the commissioner and the auditors for the work that was done in carrying out the audit.
As an organization whose ongoing success depends upon a firm commitment to continuous improvement, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has accepted the commissioner's feedback and recommendations specifically as detailed in chapter 4 of the report.
The commissioner recognized that CEAA 2012 was still in its very early stages of implementation during the conduct of the audit. In fact, the audit began just shy of 18 months after the coming into force of the act. As such, the auditors focused on key aspects of the act that they felt were relevant for that period in the implementation process, notably our environmental assessment processes and aboriginal engagement and consultation.
I'm very pleased to note the chapter's overall finding that the agency has indeed put in place the systems, practices, and procedures to support effective environmental assessment. I appreciate the report's highlighting of specific achievements, including the implementation of systems and practices to meet new legislated timelines, to assist with public participation, and to reduce duplication of environmental assessment processes.
With the second anniversary of the coming into force of the act having just recently passed, I can tell you that I'm very proud of the remarkable work of so many agency employees in leading and coordinating the activities that have resulted in these achievements to date.
I look forward to many more achievements as the ongoing implementation of the act continues.
I take very seriously, Mr. Chair, the feedback and recommendations of the commissioner, which make particularly clear the need to enhance the clarity and public availability of information about key environmental assessment processes being applied under CEAA 2012, as well as the ongoing need to continually seek opportunities to strengthen aboriginal engagement and consultation. In the agency's response to the report, we have committed to doing exactly this as we work to continuously improve upon the manner in which we implement the legislation on behalf of Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This concludes my opening remarks.
Because I don't have much time left, I will ask you three questions all at once. You can take the time you need to answer each one.
The first question is about your draft regulations for the oil and gas sector, which have been around for a year. According to the commissioner's report, the consultations were very limited.
Why were they so restricted and the group so limited?
Why are the draft regulations still not available after a year?
As politicians, we would at least like to look at them.
On page 16 of chapter 1, the commissioner asks four very specific questions, including these two:
What additional or more stringent regulations will be needed in sectors already subject to regulation, and when?
Which additional sectors does the federal government plan on regulating, and when?
You said you intended to answer these four questions.
Are you promising to do so in a year?
That more or less sums up my concerns.
Lastly, I would like to talk about the western chorus frog.
I'd just like to know if you are going to issue the famous emergency protection order.
Do you have any news about that?
I'm sorry to bombard you with questions. I will let you have the floor.
Mr. Chair, the agency has a flexible and comprehensive framework for engaging aboriginal groups in the conduct of an environmental assessment. From the time that we receive a project description from a proponent right through to a minister's decision statement and well beyond that, when a project is actually being brought to life and constructed, we meet with aboriginal groups. We have crown consultation coordinators in each of the regions who actually go into communities and meet with aboriginal groups, their representatives, and their elders to discuss the project description, to get feedback on the perspective of the aboriginal group on the types of impacts that the project might have on their rights or interests, on the types of mitigations that might help to address or accommodate, where appropriate, those impacts and those interests, even to the point of talking about potential conditions in the event the project is ultimately allowed to proceed.
So right through the entire process, we work with aboriginal groups. We even bring departmental experts from other federal departments to come into the community with us to help raise that level of understanding and communication and capacity of first nations to understand what the project is about and what the potential impacts are, so that when the proponent is issued environmental impact statement guidelines, they reflect the concerns of the aboriginal groups. When the proponent submits their environmental impact statement and the agency prepares its report, which is then shared publicly as well, the interests and participation of aboriginal groups are reflected in that, and they go out for further consultation with public and aboriginal groups.
We believe that under the new act and with the funding that is provided by the government for the participant funding program, we are doing a very effective job of engaging aboriginal groups in the conduct of EAs.
One recommendation that the commissioner made, which we have accepted, is that the agency will need to have a structured or systematic approach to engaging aboriginal groups in discussions on policy and future policy issues related to the implementation of the act. I mention that because, as you may remember, this audit started 18 months after the act was proclaimed. In those first 18 months and the months since then, the agency has been very engaged in adjusting our business processes to be able to respond to the consultation requirements, and to be able to respond to and deliver on legislative timeframes, etc.
Now, as the act becomes a little more mature, we expect that policy areas will arise. We will want to discuss those with the public, with other stakeholders, and certainly with aboriginal groups. We will be looking for opportunities to structure meaningful dialogue with them that responds to their needs, that does so in such a way that they would like to be engaged, and that still respects the provisions of the act in terms of legislative timeframes.