COLUMN: Feds must heed damning report

Federal government auditor made some serious implications

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded in 2010, killing 11 people and spewing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, it cost more than $40 billion to mop up the mess. In Canada, an oil company would be liable for only $30 million, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the rest. That’s just one of a litany of flaws Canada’s environment commissioner identified with the government’s approach to environmental protection.

According to environment and sustainable development commissioner Scott Vaughan, who released a final series of audits before stepping down, the federal government’s failure to protect the environment is putting Canadians’ health and economy at risk.

Vaughan says the government has no real plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is not even on track to meet its own modest targets (already watered down from the widely accepted emission-levels baseline of 1990 to 2005). It is unprepared for tanker accidents and oil spills in coastal waters. It lacks regulations governing toxic chemicals used by the oil industry.

He noted the federal government does not even require the oil and gas industry to disclose chemicals it uses in fracking, which means there is no way to assess the risks. And despite the fact that Canada has committed to protecting 20 per cent of its oceans by 2020, we have less than one per cent protected now and are not likely to meet our goal within this century.

“We know that there is a boom in natural resources in this country and I think what we need now – given the gaps, given the problems we found – is a boom in environmental protection in this country as well,” Vaughan told The Globe and Mail. Not dealing with the risks will cause economic losses, he said, as well as damage to human health and the environment, because it will cost more to clean up problems than prevent them.

This is not coming from a tree-hugging environmentalist, but from the government’s own independent office of the auditor general. It should concern all Canadians.

We have a beautiful country, blessed with a spectacular natural environment and a progressive, caring society. But we can’t take it for granted. Beijing was probably a nicer city when you could breathe the air without risking your life.

Often, the justification for failing to care for the environment is that it’s not economically feasible. It’s not a rational argument – we can’t survive and be healthy if we degrade or destroy the air, water, soil and biodiversity that make it possible for us to live well.

Vaughan shows the folly of this way of thinking on a more basic level. Beyond the high costs of cleaning up after environmental contamination or disasters, he notes the government doesn’t even have a handle on some of the financial implications of its policies.

“The government does not know the actual cost of its support to the fossil fuel sector,” he reports. He added it has no idea how much its sector-by-sector approach to greenhouse gas emissions will cost either, even though that was a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which the government bailed on, arguing it was too expensive.

The government has also steadfastly refused to consider putting a price on carbon, through a carbon tax and/or cap-and-trade, even though economists point to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that those are effective ways to reduce carbon emissions.

With an expected doubling of fracking wells, from 200,000 to 400,000, and tripling of tanker traffic off the West Coast, we can’t afford such a lax approach. Our prime minister has responded mostly with slogans and platitudes, but others in government say the issues will be addressed. For the sake of our country’s future, we must demand that they keep that promise and recognize the role the environment commissioner has in analyzing Canada’s environmental practices and recommending improvements.

Given our government’s record of ignoring scientific evidence and gutting environmental laws and programs, it will have to do a lot more to convince Canadians that it doesn’t see environmentalists and environmental regulation simply as impediments to fossil fuel development.

editor@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Sidney has highest walk-in clinic wait times in the country: report

Several Vancouver Island facilities wait times notably poor

Search underway as Our Place Society CEO Don Evans resigns

‘It’s time for me to take a break to recharge my batteries’

Victoria shuttle service aims to use cruise ship waste as fuel

Pacific Northwest Transportation Services wants to have a zero emission fleet by 2026

More clouds, showers ahead for Wednesday

Plus a look ahead at the weekend’s forecast

VIDEO: Harbour Air makes history with first electric aircraft test flight

Successful flight marks first of its kind in the world

UPDATED: No survivors in Gabriola Island plane crash: RCMP

Coroner confirms multiple fatalities after small plane goes down Tuesday night near Nanaimo

POLL: Do you have a real or artificial Christmas tree?

The lights are up, holiday shoppers are bustling through the streets and… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of Dec. 10

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

The Grinch who Stole a Hedge: Security camera captures Chilliwack tree theft

RCMP arrives as person calmly walks away with tree in downtown area

Tavares scores twice as Maple Leafs earn 4-1 win over Canucks

Vancouver sees two-game win streak snapped

The Russell Troupe finds a comfort zone in small Island community

Family gathering with two parents and five kids a common scene around Chemainus

Salmonella outbreak in Canada linked to rodents and snakes

92 cases of salmonella across six provinces, including B.C.

Meng Wanzhou wins right to more documents involving arrest at Vancouver airport

Defence lawyers allege the Huawei executive was unlawfully detained, searched and interrogated

Most Read