The Commissioner for the Environment has given irrefutable proof of the old adage that "in this world you get what you pay for." In his latest report, Interim Commissioner Neil Maxwell, who is the principle auditor for Environment Canada and its subsidiaries including Parks Canada, pointed out the yawning gap between the Harper "government's commitments and the results achieved," which has resulted in a "backlog of unfinished work" that will take "approximately 10 years to complete."
Environment Canada will no longer lead ecosystem status and trend reports -- an important step in addressing the lack of comprehensive biodiversity reporting in Canada. The Commissioner reports that "the ability to comprehensively report on biodiversity status and trends may be in jeopardy." Unfortunately, it isn't the only area in jeopardy, according to the Report.
Parks Canada has "legal requirements for establishing recovery strategies, action plans, and management plans under the Species at Risk Act." These legal requirements have not been met and it will take Environment Canada "approximately 10 years to complete its backlog of recovery strategies requires under the Act."
It goes on and on through painful chapter after painful chapter cataloguing, in great detail, highlighting failure after failure by the Harper government to address everything from biological diversity and the conservation of migratory birds to Recovery Planning for Species at Risk and Ecological integrity of National Parks.
Ironically, the Department agrees with nearly every one of the Commissioner's findings and promises to do better next time. Canada's impotent environmental legislation and international commitments are like a dog with no teeth, void of repercussion and providing fertile ground for further Conservative ambivalence. So what does Government's response look like? It was classic Harper-speak.
We missed a deadline? So what?
We failed to meet a target under the UN Convention on Biodiversity? Who cares? It is only a convention.
"Legislative requirements under the Species at Risk Act have not been met." No big deal!
We are the Harper government and we ignore laws that we don't like we "couldn't care less" about it. What are the legal consequences?
The report landed with a thud on the Minister Aglukkaq's desk. Instead of showing some contrition or embarrassment she parroted Conservative talking points full of irrelevancies, half-truths, and non sequiturs.
"Our Government continues to play a leadership role"
"Our government remains committed to promoting sustainable development..."
"Our government reaffirms our commitment to protecting our nation's rich natural heritage," etc.
The only remaining question is whether she has actually read the Commissioner's report.
So, how can we make sense of all of this? It is sometimes helpful to look at budgets when trying to sort out truth from fiction. The Harper government's disdain for the environment is well known. The environment was barely mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, and the term "climate change" was completely absent from the text.
Despite its prevalence in public discourse, climate change was not mentioned even once. In the 2007-08 actual spending by the Department was $997 million. Six years later, planned spending had increased to $997.6 million. It took six years to increase a relatively modest budget by $600,000 however actual spending was $8.3 million less, not to mention cumulative inflation would have chipped away at the budget approximately an additional 10 per cent.
For those who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, this may be welcome news -- but for the environment, it is a disaster.
John McKay is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood, Ontario and the Critic for Environment