Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting us this morning. I'm pleased to be here today to present my first report.
Let me begin with three general observations drawn from the report. First, the government cannot demonstrate that the money it is spending on some important environmental programs is making a difference. Second, the government is not ensuring that measures to limit harmful air emissions are working. And third, the government has not yet translated sustainable development into concrete practice.
Canadians expect the government to tackle environmental degradation. The government needs to know what works, what doesn't, and why. However, our audit work for this report found gaps in the information needed for Parliament to know how well the programs we examined are working or whether adjustments are needed.
In chapter 3 we've reviewed environmental programming at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. While agriculture generates billions of dollars for Canada's economy, pollution from the farm sector also represents a significant environmental burden. Public concern about its effects is growing. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has spent $370 million to encourage farm practices that protect the environment. However, after five years the department cannot show whether these environmental programs are leading to improvements in environmental quality on the farm.
We also examined Environment Canada's management of the issuance of severe weather warnings to Canadians. Some severe weather events such as tornados and blizzards can cause injuries, loss of life, and considerable material damages. Timely and accurate warnings of severe weather can allow Canadians to take appropriate action.
We found that the department lacks an effective national approach to verify the timeliness and the accuracy of the more than 10,000 severe weather warnings it issues each year. We also found that the assets of its weather observation network, including radar and surface stations, are not managed adequately to ensure that the network can continue providing the data needed by the department to issue and verify severe weather warnings.
Environment Canada is considered a leader in meteorological services. Every day it provides a valuable service to the Canadian public. Yet, while severe weather events are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change, the department is facing challenges and risks that threaten the robustness of its systems. We recommend that the department adopt a long-term strategy to guide its decisions.
The report also contains examples of the government's measures to reduce air pollution. In order to be credible to Canadians and to the world, government air pollution reduction programs must produce results that are measurable. In that respect, most of our observations were disappointing.
For example, we looked at the regulations on gas pumps aimed at limiting the release of toxic vapours such as benzene when people refuel their cars and trucks. We found that Environment Canada has done almost no enforcement of these regulations. As a result, it does not know whether the regulations are working.
Another example is the clean air and climate change trust fund, the $1.5 billion transferred to the provinces to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Although Environment Canada claims that certain reductions will be achieved, the trust fund has no conditions requiring provinces to report on how this money will be used and what was achieved. This will make it difficult for Environment Canada to support its claims that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 16 megatonnes per year between 2008 and 2012 as a result of the fund.
We also examined the public transit tax credits. The purpose of this measure is to encourage Canadians to use public transit. Although this is a laudable objective, we observed that real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were disappointing, despite the $635 million this program costs each year.
Finally, we examined an antipollution plan to reduce emissions of a toxic substance, acrylonitrile. We observed that not only did total national emissions of acrylonitrile not decrease, they are three times higher than in 2000 when the substance was declared toxic.
My report also includes chapters on environmental petitions and sustainable development strategies.
In closing, the government has an important role to play in protecting the environment and the health of Canadians and in moving towards sustainable development. Unfortunately, all too often the government does not know the impact of its efforts.
That concludes my opening statement. We would be happy to answer any questions from the committee.