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

Victoria teen killed by falling tree, remembered as hero

Tai Caverhill was the first to spot the tree falling towards him and his friends

Victoria woman in L.A. hospital after she was run over twice

Lynn Phillips has suffered from multiple broken bones and internal bleeding

Tiny Yorkshire terrier Poppie survives days on remote island

ROAM rescue crews, family searched for dog, missing in Saanich for days

Researchers say ‘text neck’ causing bone spurs to grow from millenials’ skulls

Technology use from early childhood causing abnormal bone growths in 41 per cent of young adults

VIDEO: Performers awe crowds at 2019 Indigenous Cultural Festival

Dancers and singers from First Nations across B.C. gather in Victoria

Air Canada reviewing how crew left sleeping passenger on parked plane

In a Facebook post, the woman said she woke up ‘all alone’ on a ‘cold dark’ aircraft

Only legal pot shop between Vancouver and Kamloops now open

Private cannabis store on Skwah land in Chilliwack is first B.C. licensee to be Indigenous owned

Canadian communities responding to climate change

New research highlights state of local adaptation planning in Canada

B.C. judge defies lawyers and adds six months to man’s sex assault sentence

‘I find the joint submission is contrary to the public interest and I’m rejecting it’

Man presumed dead after boat capsizes in Columbia River

Search and rescue efforts recovered a life jacket

Crews fight wildfire along Sea-to-Sky Highway

A cause has not been determined, although a downed power line is suspected

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Rock climber dies after fall at Stawamus Chief in Squamish

The man had fallen about 30 metres while climbing in the Grand Wall area

Most Read