Environment Canada is being cited by industry, science and advocacy groups for failing to comply with its own standards.
Delegates to an Ottawa conference said the department had failed to meet its mandates. The criticism echoed a November 5 report to Parliament by the Commissioner of the Environment. The document warned policies were so weakly managed cabinet did not meet its legal obligations.
“One, the federal government needs to do its job,” said Avrim Lazar, retired CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada. “Two, there is a huge opportunity for a leadership model with the federal government for convening the interests in society to come up with collective solutions – and then listening to the solutions.”
Lazar, a former assistant deputy minister at Environment Canada, was speaking at a conference Conserving Canada’s Biodiversity: Connecting the Dots, organized by the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment.
Environment Commissioner Neil Maxwell told the Commons in his Fall 2013 Report that regulators often failed to meet objectives under initiatives like the Species At Risk Act, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and parks management of natural areas.
“We aren’t meeting our own standards,” said Nik Lopoukine, International Union for Conservation of Nature’s former chair on protected areas; “You are leading by perception.”
An industry group, the Canadian Electricity Association, said enforcement of regulations is so inadequate that ecosystems are at risk.
“We are in agreement largely with the commissioner’s report,” Sandra Schwartz, association vice president of external relations, told the conference; “We are losing ground. The ecosystems are deteriorating and governments are not doing their job entirely – and industry requires government to do its job.”
Environment Canada, Parks Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were all cited by the commissioner for falling short of legal obligations.
Commissioner Maxwell, speaking to the Commons environment committee, said a current backlog of assessments under the Species At Risk Act, alone will take a decade to clear.
“I’d simply highlight the importance of getting those tools in place,” said Maxwell. “It is a concern that of the over 500 species at risk in Canada, at the moment only seven have the recovery strategy and the action plan necessary.”
By Kaven Baker-Voakes