Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
We are simply delighted to be here to discuss our 2007 annual report. It was tabled in the House of Commons on October 30.
I am accompanied by our two principals, Andrew Ferguson and Richard Arseneault.
This report covers two issues fundamental to the mandate Parliament gave the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development 12 years ago. One issue was sustainable development strategies; the other was, of course, environmental petitions.
First, I'll talk about sustainable development strategies. Sustainable development strategies deal with issues that concern all Canadians - protection of the environment, economic prosperity, and social issues such as health. These issues are not mutually exclusive. For example, it is increasingly understood that Canada's economic health depends on its environmental health.
Sustainable development strategies were introduced by Parliament a decade ago to encourage government departments to green their policies and programs. They were to do this by integrating protection of the environment with economic and social issues when developing policy proposals for the future and when managing programs and activities of the day.
We've been monitoring sustainable development strategies for more than a decade. Unfortunately, the ambition and momentum that existed in the early stages of sustainable development strategies have faded. Frankly, the strategies today are a major disappointment. We found little evidence in our audit this year that the strategies have improved or that they have encouraged departments to integrate protection of the environment with economic and social issues in a substantive or meaningful way.
This year I call on the government to carry out a thorough review of what needs to be fixed. The review should result in a concrete action plan to ensure that the government delivers results that will meet Parliament’s expectations.
I am very pleased that the government has agreed with our recommendation to carry out such a review and has made a commitment to complete it by October of next year. I would hope that this committee, Mr. Chairman, would take an active interest in this review by the government. Environment Canada will lead the review; frankly, I believe a separate hearing with them to discuss objectives, approach, and work plan could be quite helpful indeed.
When we look at it, there will never be a better time to carry out this review. Canadians are highly interested in environmental issues, and there is time for government to adjust its approach before the next round of strategies is tabled in 2009.
The other chapter in my report on environmental petitions is more positive. Petitions are letters sent by Canadians to the Auditor General as a way to present their environmental concerns and questions to specific ministers of the federal government. Ministers are required to respond in writing within 120 days. The Commissioner administers the process on behalf of the Auditor General.
Our retrospective study of petitions shows that petitioners value the process, which provides a forum for voicing their concerns and assures them of a formal response. We found that petitioners and departmental officials believe that petitions have had an impact on the government's management of environmental and sustainable development issues.
We also identified opportunities to improve the process, including making Canadians more aware of it. Environmental petitions are a unique feature of our parliamentary democracy. They contribute to public engagement, transparency, and government accountability in environmental matters that concern Canadians.
As I believe the committee knows, we will soon be providing another report to Parliament. Our February status report will include 14 chapters that focus on whether the government has made satisfactory progress on issues that we have audited in the past, issues such as toxic substances, species at risk, contaminated sites, and strategic environmental assessments.
Many parliamentarians find it useful when we provide them with a status report because it clearly points to areas where there has been insufficient progress since our original audits. This information would be a good starting point for discussion with departments in a hearing before a committee such as this.
That concludes my opening statement, Mr. Chairman. We would be very pleased now to respond to questions from members.