Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be here to present our 2009 Status Report, which was recently tabled in Parliament.
The status report shows what departments and agencies have done to address two issues that were raised in our past reports. In determining whether progress is satisfactory or unsatisfactory, we take into account the complexity of the issue and the amount of time that has passed since the original audit.
The two environmental issues that we cover in this report are fundamental to life: the safety of the water we drink and the quality of the air we breathe.
Let me turn to the first chapter of this report, Safety of Drinking Water.
The production and delivery of safe drinking water is often taken for granted until problems occur, at times with tragic consequences. How the federal government carries out its responsibilities for the safety of drinking water has an impact on millions of people, including travellers, visitors to national parks, federal penitentiary inmates, bottled water consumers, and federal employees.
The federal government is responsible for the development of the science-based Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. These guidelines establish maximal allowable levels for 120 different contaminants that could be found in our drinking water.
The federal government, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, must ensure that these guidelines are current and take into account scientific evidence. Provinces and territories use these guidelines in a variety of ways ranging from general guidance to legislated standards. Under the Canada Labour Code, federal employers must provide their employees with drinking water that meets these guidelines.
In 2005, we reported that the process followed by Health Canada to develop and review the guidelines was based on risk, science, consultation and transparency.
However, we also reported that this process was consistently slow, with a backlog of 50 guidelines in need of a review to reflect current science. Since then, the department has largely cleared the backlog. I am pleased that Health Canada has also set up a process to update the guidelines regularly on the basis of scientific information and risks to human health, and produced new ones as needed.
In 2005, we observed that Health Canada had stopped all of its routine inspections of drinking water quality on commercial passenger aircraft. I am pleased that Health Canada has resumed this important work. However, its current coverage is incomplete.
In 2005, we were critical of the federal government departments and agencies because of gaps and inconsistencies in their procedures to ensure safe drinking water at their facilities and sites. In late 2005, Health Canada released a central guidance document to assist federal organizations in this area.
Of the two federal organizations we examined for this follow-up audit, we note that Parks Canada had systems in place to assure compliance with those federal guidelines. By contrast, we note that the Correctional Service of Canada did not follow some of the procedures in Health Canada's guidance. We especially note that high levels of lead were detected in some of the Service's facilities located in Quebec.
Finally, the chapter also examined Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's shared responsibility for assuring the safety of bottled drinking water. Among the five recommendations in this chapter is the need to revise the food and drug regulations for bottled water so they refer to the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality.
We now turn to the Air Quality Health Index. The AQHI, as it is commonly called, is a snapshot of air quality at a given location. It combines three key pollutants that affect human health and that need to be monitored across Canada. Like the UV Index, the AQHI is designed to help individual Canadians make informed decisions about outdoor activity.
The AQHI measures the combined effect of three pollutants that exist in Canada—ground-level ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter—that can affect human health. This is one of the first times an index has been developed that combines or correlates pollution data with probable human health risks. Until the advent of the AQHI, provinces and selected communities have communicated data obtained from national networks through their own indices. These indices report only the one pollutant with the current highest measurement in a given area. They are not based on combined measurements and they're not specifically related to human health.
We found that Environment Canada and Health Canada have made satisfactory progress in developing the AQHI, a commitment that was cited in their responses to petitions submitted by the public in 2002 and 2003. At the time of our audit, the Index had been piloted at several locations across Canada, including three completed pilot projects in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Toronto.
Our audit found that Health Canada and Environment Canada consulted widely with stakeholders at every stage of the initiative, and are now in the process of rolling out the AQHI across Canada. The short-term goal is to have coverage for all cities over 100,000 people by 2011.
The departments have recognized that they face a number of challenges moving forward, including the need for better data collection in rural areas, working with the provinces on issues related to total or partial phase-out of existing indices, and the funding of further development that would allow for coverage of rural areas and include more regionally specific pollutant issues.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement. With my colleagues Mr. Arseneault and Mr. Morse, we will be pleased to answer your questions.