Environment Committee on March 13th, 2012
Evidence of meeting #26 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was environment.
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Carol Najm Assistant Deputy Minister, Finance Branch, Department of the Environment
- Yves Leboeuf Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
- Karen Dodds Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Branch, Department of the Environment
- Paul Boothe Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment
The Chair Mark Warawa
I will call the meeting to order now that the minister is here with us.
I want to welcome everyone to this 26th meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We have approximately one hour with the minister and department.
Minister, I'll just let you get your talking points ready, and you can start at your convenience.
Peter Kent Minister of the Environment
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for this abbreviated session, circumstances being what they are.
With me today are my deputy minister, Paul Boothe; the CEO of Parks Canada Agency, Alan Latourelle; vice-president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Mr. Yves Leboeuf; assistant deputy minister, science and technology branch at Environment Canada, Dr. Karen Dodds; and Environment Canada's chief financial officer, Carol Najm.
As we look forward to the next 12 months, our government is keenly interested in striking the right balance between economic renewal and environmental protection. We need to ensure that our natural resources are developed in an environmentally sustainable manner while we maximize economic growth, competitiveness, and the creation of good long-term jobs for Canadians.
As you all know, Environment Canada is a regulatory department. Its main function is to develop, implement, monitor and enforce national, science-based environmental regulations and standards.
One of our focuses this year will be to streamline and to increase the efficiency and transparency of our regulatory processes so that we can make them more efficient and more effective. We intend to take our proven track record of regulatory excellence to the next level as Environment Canada is committed to operating as a world-class regulator.
As regulations define many of our efforts at Environment Canada, these changes will be a key component in enabling this department to achieve many of its goals for Canadians. Those include carrying out our commitment to reduce this country's greenhouse gas emissions by 17% over 2005 base levels by 2020. Canada is already one-quarter of the way towards reaching its 2020 target through our sector-by-sector approach.
We have targeted the transportation and electricity sectors—the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. We have introduced new emissions regulations for cars and trucks in the transportation sector. We are now addressing the electricity sector by refining the regulations and creating new performance standards for coal-fired electricity generation, and we will continue to make progress by addressing emissions from other major emitting sectors.
But as we all know our efforts alone are not enough. On the international stage, Canada has been playing an active role in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since its inception, and has worked constructively with other countries over the past several years to launch the negotiations process on a new international climate change agreement for the future. The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action took another step forward by setting out a negotiating mandate for all countries to develop a single, new, international treaty to include all major emitters, to be implemented by 2020.
While these are significant aims, we recognize that a lot of work still needs to be done.
One direction we're pursuing is taking action where the needs are most pressing and where the resources to act are most limited. As part of our commitment to provide our fair share of fast-start financing, the Government of Canada has contributed $1.2 billion in new and additional climate change financing.
We will be supporting a range of projects and programs in some of the world's neediest and poorest countries. Already these funds have helped to address deforestation and forest degradation and to ensure food security and provide adaptation assistance.
Here at home, we're continuing to press forward in our work towards achieving this country's full potential as a clean energy superpower. We're building the appropriate framework, and we're building it on environmental regulations and standards that are based on clear and transparent policies and practices.
We're also continuing to make great progress in ensuring that future growth of the oil sands will be done in a responsible and a sustainable manner.
With the release of our integrated environment monitoring plan for the oil sands last July, we outlined what we needed to have and what we needed to do in order to develop a world-class monitoring program for this important resource.
As you know, last month, with my colleague from Alberta, Minister McQueen, I announced the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands monitoring. This world-class, science-based program will provide Canadians with the necessary rigorous scientific data to ensure that this resource is developed in an environmentally sustainable manner. Most importantly, this program will make Canada's oil sands monitoring among the best in the world.
Moreover, our clean air agenda will ensure cleaner air and a cleaner environment for all Canadians. Under this agenda, we are identifying emerging air quality issues, measuring and monitoring the status of existing issues, and evaluating solutions.
Under the next phase of Canada's chemicals management plan, we're also working to protect Canadians from harmful chemicals by assessing and regulating a multitude of chemicals used in thousands of industrial and consumer products. This is one of the many ways in which Environment Canada is earning a reputation as a world-class regulator, and we continue to build on that reputation.
Furthermore, the department is carrying out its mandate to protect and conserve Canada's rich and abundant biodiversity. For example, under our new St. Lawrence Plan we are working with Quebec to ensure water quality, protect ecologically sensitive areas and conserve the incredible biodiversity of the St. Lawrence.
Additionally, the department is enhancing our weather and warning service across the country so that it continues to provide Canadians with a comprehensive national weather, water, and climate monitoring system.
As for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Mr. Chair, our focus remains on supporting the Canadian economy and the sustainability of the environment through the delivery of timely, high-quality environmental assessments. Through this practice, we aim to prevent adverse environmental effects, in a cost-effective manner, before project construction begins.
Since we last met, Parks Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary. To date, it has expanded existing parks and created new ones to the point where Canada now protects close to 100 million hectares—about 10% of our entire land mass.
I could talk at length about our accomplishments and our future goals, but I trust l've left you with a clear sense of our direction and our actions.
I would now like to turn, with your permission, to the estimates documents that are before Parliament for consideration.
There are three main documents: the supplementary (B) and (C) estimates for the 2011-12 fiscal, and the main estimates for the 2012-13 fiscal. We'll be looking at these estimates for my portfolio, including Environment Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and Parks Canada.
Let's start with the supplementary (B) estimates, the second request to adjust funding allocations this fiscal year.
For Environment Canada, we're requesting $135.4 million in additional funding. This funding will go largely towards major initiatives such as the clean air regulatory agenda, or CARA III; the chemical management plan; the monitoring and supercomputing, or MSC, infrastructure; phase two of the federal contaminated sites action plan; the federal adaptation program; and clean transportation.
Parks Canada is requesting $30.1 million in additional funding, which includes funding for emergency response to natural disasters and unanticipated health and safety-related capital repairs; the Trans Canada Trail completion and promotion; the War of 1812 horizontal initiative, to support bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812; phase two of the federal contaminated sites action plan; to help Canadians adapt to climate change under Canada's clean air agenda; and grants to the Tulita District Lands Corporation as a step toward completion to the establishment of the Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency requested $2.1 million in contributions to fund public participation and to lead aboriginal consultations for environmental assessments of major development projects.
Now let's turn to the supplementary (C) estimates, the final request for adjustments to our funding allocations for this fiscal year.
Environment Canada is not asking for additional funding in these estimates. It is requesting permission to reallocate existing funds within the department. The majority of these funds will be used for significant initiatives such as advancing Canada's international climate change actions, the international climate strategy, and fast-start financing, and conserving ecologically sensitive land.
Mr. Chair, let's turn now to the main estimates, the first request for departmental funding for the next fiscal year. Environment Canada is requesting $972.7 million in these main estimates. This amount represents a $100.6-million increase over last year's main estimates, which is due mainly to program increases for the Clean Air Agenda, Canada's Chemical Management Plan, the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan, and Canada's weather services.
These estimates will inform Canada's domestic regulatory approach to greenhouse gas emissions, providing a platform to further engagement with the United States on climate change issues and enhancing Canada's visibility as an international leader in clean energy technology.
They will help to address health and environmental risks posed by harmful chemicals by accelerating the pace of the risk assessment to address the legacy of unassessed substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, by 2020. Also, they will allow the department to continue its work of assessing and remediating contaminated sites through the federal contaminated sites action plan. Lastly, they will give Environment Canada the leverage to improve Canada's weather services by ensuring the integrity of the Government of Canada's weather and environmental supercomputer for the Meteorological Service of Canada.
As for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the 2012-13 main estimates propose a net decrease of $13 million in comparison to the agency's 2011-12 main estimates. This would bring the total 2012-13 budget to $17 million. This decrease, as most of you know, is largely attributable to the sunsetting of the Major Projects Management Office—MPMO—initiative and aboriginal consultation. These initiatives will be reviewed as part of the normal process for funds that have sunsetted, which will inform the government's decision on its renewal.
Moving forward to the 2012-13 main estimates for Parks Canada, the request totals $648.2 million. This reflects a net decrease of $42.3 million from the 2011-12 main estimates. The major changes in funding compared to the previous year represent reductions in funding needs for the planned completion of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park, for the transfer of e-mail, data centre, and network services to Shared Services Canada, and the funding received to implement the Species at Risk Act.
Increases, on the other hand, will largely go towards emergency responses to natural disasters, federal contaminated sites, and to support additional building of the Trans-Canada Trail.
Mr. Chair, this highlights just some of the objectives that these estimates will support in the department's work to provide Canadians with a clean, safe, and sustainable environment.
I would again like to thank you and this committee for your time today, Mr. Chair, and I would be happy to take your questions at this time.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Thank you, Minister. I appreciate the brief and the explanation.
Colleagues, the first round is normally seven minutes long. I'm going to make it six minutes. I'll have to keep our time quite tight because we're running late and I want to give as many people as possible an opportunity to ask questions.
Ms. Rempel, we'll begin with you. You have six minutes.
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB
Minister Kent, on behalf of all of the committee members here, thank you for appearing before us today.
Deputy Minister Boothe, we also appreciate the time that you and your colleagues are taking to prepare and inform us about the estimates.
Just as a preamble, I think it's important to note that on both sides of the table here, while we may not always agree on approach, I think everyone has the protection of the environment at heart when we're dealing with policy. I thought it would behove us to re-emphasize some of the key points that are outlined in the estimates and that lead to that approach.
In particular, I would like to highlight the efforts we've undertaken to tackle the challenge of global warming. Some of the efforts that we've undertaken and are reflected in the estimates include: the commitment to reduce Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020; investments in clean technologies, including next generation biofuels and carbon capture and storage; and active and constructive participation in United Nations negotiations to develop a new international climate change agreement.
I do think it's fair to say that these estimates reflect our government's intention to work with our partners at home and internationally for the continued protection of Canada's valued and diverse environmental legacy and for the greater advancement of worldwide environmental protection efforts.
Just to start my line of questioning, as there are many new members on the committee here, I would like to talk a little bit about the process by which estimates are developed. So I thought that first and foremost, Minister, perhaps you could take some time to do that.
Could you inform the committee about how the estimate process works? For example, how do your reports on plans and priorities work in conjunction with the departmental performance reports? Maybe you could take a few moments to elaborate on that.
Peter Kent Thornhill, ON
Sure. Well, with regard to the dollar process, it is done in consultation with the department, with the various agencies within the department. It looks at anticipated changes in priorities and in spending obligations.
With regard to the actuarial details, I will refer that question.
Carol Najm Assistant Deputy Minister, Finance Branch, Department of the Environment
Thank you, Minister.
The estimates are tabled in the House of Commons by the president of the Treasury Board. They're made up of three parts. The first part is the government expense plan. This plan highlights an overview of the federal spending and summarizes the relationship between the key elements in the main estimates and the current expense plan. That's part I.
Part II is the main estimates. The main estimates are what support the Appropriation Act. They identify the spending authorities in the votes and the amounts to be included in subsequent appropriation bills. Parliament will be asked to approve these votes to enable the government to proceed with its spending plans.
Parts I and II of the main estimates are tabled concurrently on or before the first of March.
Part III, which contains the departmental expenditure plans, is divided into two parts: the report on plans and priorities and the departmental performance plans. In the report on plans and priorities, individual expenditure plans are elaborated on, and departments and agencies provide more detail with respect to the level of activities and contain information on strategic outcomes, initiatives, planned results, and links to the resource requirements over a three-year period. These documents are normally tabled in the fall.
So that's sometimes the difference between the contents of the main estimates and what you would find in the report on plans and priorities.
Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB
If I can just interject quickly, in the House this session we've had many questions about reductions in funding to specifically CEAA and SARA, when in fact these are sunsetting funds. Perhaps you could take a brief moment, prior to everyone else asking questions, to explain the difference between sunsetting funds and cuts.
Peter Kent Thornhill, ON
I'll take that question.
Basically, programs are created for specific periods of time. CEAA is one that regularly reaches the end of a term and needs to be reviewed and assessed, and new requests are put forward for continued funding. That is what we have done and will do for CEAA.
A year ago, the questions were with regard to reductions in several of the other sunsetted areas—CARA, the contaminated sites, and the freshwater program. By having a set period for funding, it ensures a thoughtful, careful review of the program in the years of its assigned period, and for a return to Parliament to request continued and renewed funding.
That's essentially what's happening with CEAA.
The Chair Mark Warawa
Thank you very much. The time has expired.
We will now go to Ms. Leslie for six minutes.
Megan Leslie Halifax, NS
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Mr. Minister, as well as everybody else who's here. Thank you for your time.
My questions are about the environmental assessment agency cuts and first nations. The main estimates show a cut in financial resources for the agency, about 43%, and regardless of whether that's sunsetted funds or not, it's still a reduction.
The explanatory notes say that funding for the participant funding program will be cut by $1.1 million, and funding for aboriginal consultation will be cut by $1.1 million.
In a presentation prepared by the agency in November 2010, the agency was advising a committee of deputy ministers about risks related to the underfunding of aboriginal consultation in relation to the gateway. It says:
Lack of funding may limit the ability of aboriginal groups to reasonably and meaningfully participate in the consultation and environmental assessment process. If aboriginal groups cannot consult meaningfully due to a lack of resources and capacities, and if the Crown fails to provide adequate funding, [there is a] moderate to high risk that the courts would find the consultation process to be unreasonable.
Has the department done any analysis of the costs that might be incurred by delays due to court actions concerning the gateway, but also other projects like this?
Peter Kent Thornhill, ON
That consideration is certainly front of mind. You're quite right. Our government takes a whole-of-government approach with regard to aboriginal consultation. There has been a transfer of funds, as you can read in the main estimates this year, to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to support consultation. We have a statutory requirement with regard to consultations on major projects, whether under CEAA or under the National Energy Board, in the case of the Enbridge Northern Gateway process. Those funds are assigned to enable aboriginal consultation for those first nations communities and citizens in proximity to the proposed project, just as there is a statutory requirement to support the appearance of non-first-nations residents in project areas.
Megan Leslie Halifax, NS
Mr. Minister, to that end, Mr. Leboeuf, who is vice-president of operations at CEAA and who is here today, during his testimony last fall about CEAA, said:
If the budgets are reduced, we will have to reassess the way in which we meet our obligations under the law.
This is very concerning.
My question is how will the crown discharge its duty to first nations communities in light of the cuts to the agency? I don't think that's clear.
Peter Kent Thornhill, ON
As I said, it is a whole-of-government process. Several departments have responsibility for supporting and participating in first nations consultation. With regard to the dollar amounts and the estimates and Mr. Leboeuf's look-ahead for the coming year, I'd invite his interjection.
Yves Leboeuf Vice-President, Operations, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
As Minister Kent mentioned, these are not cuts but rather sunsetting funding at this point in time. We are certainly looking forward to the renewal of this funding, but we will obviously have to wait until the budget to see whether or not these funds are renewed. As appropriate, and as I mentioned the last time I appeared, if the funds are not renewed we'll have to adjust our priorities. If they are renewed, then we'll continue our operations.
With respect to the Enbridge Northern Gateway funding and the presentation you referred to from November 2010, since then $636,000 in additional funding has indeed been provided to the aboriginal groups in relation to the Enbridge Northern Gateway review. Additional funding is expected to be provided for consultation on the final report when we get to that point.
Megan Leslie Halifax, NS
I'll move on to the PEARL research lab, which I'm sure you're all familiar with. Funding for PEARL is running out and the lab will shut its doors pretty soon—if it hasn't already—which means that a significant taxpayer investment is really just going to be thrown away. We would have thought some of the climate change funding would have been used to support PEARL, but I'm unable to find where this would be. The amount of $35 million was announced to replace the expired funding, but it has yet to materialize.
Why is the money being withheld? Should we expect that it will be released any time soon?