Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome back to the commissioner, her team and all of the departmental officials who are here.
The purpose of today's meeting is to hear from the commissioner on her most recent reports. I think there are four of them. We're going to start with a 10-minute opening statement by the commissioner.
Although we had also asked the departments to give opening statements, I think we will skip those and just get right into the questions if there's agreement to do that. We have one hour for this portion of the meeting, so I really would like to get into the interactions and discussion.
With that, Commissioner, we will turn it over to you to hear your opening statement.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be here today to discuss our spring 2019 reports, which were tabled in the House of Commons in April. I am accompanied by Kimberley Leach, Sharon Clark and Heather Miller. All three are principals, and they were responsible for our audits.
I'm going to talk to you about three audits. 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 hydroelectric facilities.
We found that, despite long-standing commitments to do so, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency have 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 developed only one plan to respond rapidly to an invasion, and this was for four species of Asian carp, a very important species to be worried about, so we are ready to respond to an invasion of that species.
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 focus 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 UN and the G20, to phase out inefficient fossil fuel 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 subsidies side, we found that Environment and Climate Change Canada's work to identify inefficient fossil fuel 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 an incredible honour to serve you 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'll be pleased to answer any questions you have.
Thank you very much.
Thank you. It's just because we have so many people.
I want welcome all of you.
Thank you for the excellent presentation. We are going to miss you this fall. Thank you so much for all of your wonderful work.
In my riding of Davenport, I hold way too many climate action town halls. I will tell you that one of the things that comes up all the time is our fossil fuel subsidies and whether we could be going fast enough. Because I only have six minutes, I'm going to direct my questions to that issue, if that's okay.
I have one question for Ms. Gelfand, and then I think I'd like to direct my questions to Finance after that.
You indicated that “We found that Finance Canada's assessments of whether tax subsidies were inefficient focused almost exclusively on fiscal and economic considerations”, but didn't adequately consider “social and environmental issues”. Can you just explain that to me so that I can better direct my questions after this?
I quite often ask officials where we're at with fossil fuel subsidies and their elimination. The response I get is that we've eliminated seven out of eight inefficient tax subsidies for fossil fuels. That's seven out of eight. Also, we're trying to define inefficient non-tax fossil fuel subsidies. That is the answer I get.
I've had a panel discussion in my riding. I've asked the panellists, who are experts in the industry—professors and lawyers who work a lot in this area—if we can move faster in eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and they have said, yes, we can. In particular, we can move faster on fossil fuel subsidies, whether tax or non-tax subsidies, that go directly to supporting increased greenhouse gas emissions. I'm sorry: we can move faster to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies that, yes, are subsidizing greater greenhouse gas emissions.
I guess that's my question. In my riding, they just want to hear that we are 100% of the way there, as opposed to 80% of the way there. I want to be able to respond to them about why we're not able to move faster in eliminating these fossil fuel subsidies.
I don't know who I'm directing this question to. I know we have a lot of people here. Who are the Finance officials here?
I have 30 seconds left.
I don't know if you can actually submit the answer to this committee, but I'd really like to understand why we're not able to eliminate this last one, and, on the inefficient non-tax fossil fuel subsidies, how come we're not further along in eliminating them?
If you can't respond in the 30 seconds left, could you could please submit something to this committee? I have a lot of representatives, a lot of people in my riding, who are demanding answers to this, and I'm not able to get answers to it.
It isn't a red card like in soccer. Our chair is very flexible.
Madam Commissioner, it is with considerable emotion that I address you today. This is probably the last time we'll have the opportunity to work with you as commissioner. In your presentation, you said that you hope parliamentarians and Canadians will find these reports and recommendations useful and worthy of follow-up, not and in the future.
We met at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. You have witnessed my outbursts about the fact that accountability, reporting, follow-up and implementation of recommendations are not automatic. I think we need to develop a system to make parliamentarians, public servants and all those involved in the decisions and suggestions you submit to us accountable. I commit before you and everyone else to do this follow-up if I'm still here for the 43rd Parliament. It's been a pleasure to work with you.
I'll now move on to the report on aquatic invasive species. In paragraph 1.44, you talk a little about what has been done since 2015. You mention the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations, which came into force in 2015. In that paragraph, you state that, “By 2018, [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] had still not arrived at a process for choosing species to include when the Regulations are next revised.”
Since my time is limited, I'll jump right to the end of paragraph 1.46, which reads:
At the time of our audit, the Department had developed draft work plans for its Aquatic Invasive Species National Core Program but had not finalized strategic directions for the program to guide its planning and resource allocation.
Madam Commissioner, I have the privilege of representing the riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. There are many lakes and invasive species. We have to act now. There was a settlement in 2015, but it is 2019 and almost nothing has been done.
I am addressing you, Madam Commissioner, but also the representatives of other departments who may want to round out your answer.
What must be implemented now to reduce the invasion of these species? Installing a cleaning station at the entrance and exit of a lake limits proliferation, but there are other things you can do as well. Can you give us some suggestions for a solution so that we can solve the problem in the next few years?
In 2017 the government invested $43.8 million in the national aquatic invasive species program. It's the first time that we've had a national program. We are two years in. We achieved our staffing levels this year, and have 20 dedicated staff across the country who are focusing on aquatic invasive species. They're working with the provinces.
I think your question on establishing priorities in addressing invasive species was very important, because the provinces manage the fishery within their jurisdiction, and the federal government is responsible for ensuring, through this regulation, the prevention of the transport, possession and import across borders, between provinces and between states.
The federal role, really, is to support coordination with the provinces, working with the U.S. and the Canada Border Services Agency, to prevent the movement of aquatic invasive species. In 2017, to complement the regulation that came in in 2013, for the first time we had the capacity to start this work.
We received the commissioner's report with open arms, because it aligned very much with the direction we were undertaking. Clearly there was not sufficient evidence when the commissioner was doing her report to demonstrate that all of these measures had been put in place, but we fully accept the recommendations. We do have staff who are now working on these recommendations, and they were very much aligned with our objectives that began in 2017. We stopped work to go through this audit, in order to reconfirm that we were doing the right kind of work.
The key message I want to convey is how important our collaboration with Canada Border Services Agency and with the provinces and territories is. We work with them through national committees, and they are very interested in getting the support from DFO on both the border issues and the science issues, to identify where the threats are.
I do feel that we have an—
Thank you, Commissioner. It's good to see you—unfortunately, perhaps for the last time. I'll direct my questions to you, and you can redirect them appropriately.
My riding is Kootenay—Columbia, located in southeastern British Columbia. My question is for Fisheries and Oceans. I was regional manager with the B.C. Ministry of the Environment, responsible for fish and wildlife, from 2002 to 2009. In the first two years, one of my tasks, unfortunately, was to cut 27% of my staff. I had to make decisions on whether to keep fish biologists or wildlife biologists. At that point Fisheries and Oceans Canada had staff in the Kootenays. They had five staff. I sat down with the manager at the time. He showed me their organization chart. They were going to have six biologists and six fisheries enforcement officers in the Kootenays, and so I cut a fish biologist and kept a wildlife biologist as one step.
Fast-forward to today, there are no fisheries officers left in the Kootenays. I'm wondering whether that may have contributed to the fact that these invasive species have not been properly identified, and whether there's an opportunity to fix that going forward and to get some staff back in the Kootenays.
We'll certainly continue to push to have them brought back to the Kootenays, because they were very important for freshwater protection.
Related to that, the Province of B.C. now has check stations when you come into the province, where they pull over all vessels of any kind. It could be a canoe. It could be boats. I stopped last year and checked with them to see what they'd found over the course of the summer. At that point, they had found three or four boats with mussels on them, and they were all from Ontario.
What happens, of course, is that they are sealed and the owners are told that they are not allowed to put their boats in the water. They've towed their boats all the way from Ontario and, absolutely, I don't want them in the water, but how does a boat get all the way from Ontario to British Columbia before they find out they're carrying mussels? Do no other provinces have check stations across the country? Should they not have something in place, potentially in conjunction with the federal government?
What I have appreciated about you is your willingness to be frank. You don't pull any punches. I do note that you're surrounded by departmental officials and you're still pretty brutally honest in your comments.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Ed Fast: I do want to get into that.
The first issue I want to touch on is invasive species. This is not a new issue in Canada. We've had this issue for decades, yet from what I see in your report, on the face of it, if you look at your statement, it's pretty damning.
DFO and CBSA “had not taken the steps required to prevent” invading “species...from becoming established in” Canadian “waters”. I mean, seriously? It's not like this is a new problem. Also, they didn't know “which species and pathways posed the greatest threats to Canada’s environment”. Honestly, folks, that's a pretty shocking statement.
I didn't hear a mea culpa from our DFO folks here. I'm concerned. Is it an issue of resources? Were you able to identify what's driving these shortcomings?
I can't speak to the parliamentary allocation of resources to the department, but I can speak to the fact that in 2017 it was the first time we had dedicated resources for aquatic invasive species. We have a permanent resource space. This is not five-year funding. This is permanent.
I think that the report.... We accepted all of the recommendations because we see the need, but I think it's creating the impression that the department is not doing anything on invasive species, which is not true. The report itself was narrow in scope and only looked at the management and control actions for priority species.
We have had a sea lamprey control program in Ontario since 1955. We have had the program for Asian carp for five years and it has now been renewed permanently. We have a ballast water control program on the St. Lawrence River to prevent species from coming in through ballast water in ships.
The primary vectors for invasive species are through marine traffic and through the recreational boating sector. We have science reports that show where the vectors are and what the threats are. I think the commissioner's observation was that this hasn't been formalized, standardized and incorporated into the DNA of the department, if you will, and that's where we're at now. It's to recognize that in a world of climate change, changing species and the movement of these species with increasing trade, we have to control the borders and to control the movement of vessels. We know all of this stuff, and we now have staff that are thinking about this full time.
I can only speak to how we allocate our current resources. Your points are extremely well taken in terms of the level of public concern and the increasing rate of change that's occurring with respect to invasive species, and our collaboration with the provinces and CBSA is absolutely essential, but from a resource capacity, this is managing threats, and we're making a prediction about how quickly they can come.
We're doing the best with what we have, and if it's believed that more should be done, then we will do more, for sure.
My question is for the representative for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
You mentioned to my colleague Darren Fisher that you had the authority and tools needed to meet the needs. You also stated earlier that you received $43.8 million in 2017 to establish a team responsible for aquatic invasive species. That's what I understood from your remarks.
The problem concerns the distribution of government responsibilities. Various departments report that they need additional funding to add to their workload, such as priority processing of aquatic invasive species, because the resources they have at their disposal are not sufficient. However, it must be understood that these phenomena are constantly evolving. I think our departments and our government should be able to adapt to the situation in a timely manner. Twenty years ago, the phenomenon of aquatic invasive species already existed, but to a lesser extent. Today, however, these species have become more invasive, and action is a priority.
I was in the private sector before I became a member of Parliament in 2015, and there may be things I don't understand. However, in my opinion, if we are faced with a priority file, we must leave aside a less pressing element that has already been put on track and reassign staff to the priority file. My question is simple: are aquatic invasive species currently a priority? My reading of the report tabled by the Commissioner does not give me that impression.
Okay. I'm only half satisfied with that, but I understand your answer.
I'll continue with the third report, which concerns tax subsidies on fossil fuels. Again, I have an existential question. I haven't been an MP for long, which allows me to keep my faith and trust since I'm an eternal optimist.
When it comes to the international standards that Canada signed onto, why not focus on effective subsidies rather than ineffective ones? I propose reversing the concept and focusing our efforts on effective subsidies, which could be simple. This would also immediately eliminate inefficient subsidies. What do you think of that? What I'm proposing is existential and very simplistic, but it may be more effective than we think.
Would one of you like to try to answer my question?