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Environmental Commissioner criticizes Canadian Environmental Assessment Act

Julie Gelfand, Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, issued her first report card on the federal government's activities in these areas on October 7.


Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, issued her first report card on the federal government’s activities in these areas on October 7.

She began by noting that economic development brings environmental and social risks, particularly in the natural resources sector. “Left unmanaged, today’s environmental risks will impose future economic and social costs. The recent breach of the tailings pond dam at the Mount Polley mine, the ongoing Giant Mine Remediation Project, the Sydney Tar Ponds clean-up and the collapse of the northern cod fishery remind us that the social and economic costs of ineffective resource management can be substantial and long lasting.” She added that, “without meaningful engagement of local communities, industry players, environmental organizations, and Aboriginal peoples, resource development projects will lack the support that is needed to proceed.”

Gelfand found the government had made some progress in “laying the groundwork” for more comprehensive monitoring of the environmental effects of the oil sands development.

But she criticized the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) introduced in 2012 because it is not clear about which projects should be assessed. Gelfand wrote: “[The] criteria that were applied to determine which projects should be subject to the [new CEAA] Act are not well-documented, nor are they comprehensive. … I am concerned that, as a consequence, some significant projects will not be adequately assessed and that decision makers will therefore lack the information they require to mitigate environmental impacts.”

She also noted that while the government voices support for stakeholder involvement in principle, in practice she found that many stakeholders felt they did not have the resources to participate meaningfully in federal environmental assessments of projects.

Gelfand is also concerned that despite the government’s commitment in Copenhagen to reduce greenhouse gases by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, this goal is not likely to be achieved. And while the government has introduced regulations restricting emissions in two sectors — transportation and electricity generation — it has not regulated GHG emissions from the oil and gas sector “even though emissions are growing fastest in this sector.”

In response to the auditor’s report, Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, issued a statement saying that “Our Government continues to take action to protect the environment while supporting economic growth and prosperity.” She noted that in partnership with Alberta, the federal government has launched the world-class Joint Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring.

Aglukkaq said the government “has in place strong mechanisms to undertake rigorous environmental assessments,” and is committed to engaging First Nations and communities. She also pointed out the government’s stated intention to phase down the use of HFCs, “the fastest growing GHG on the planet.”