Madam Chair, thank you so much for inviting us. I was just saying to Mr. Cullen that we have done a lot of audits in the last 20 years and we have a lot of expertise that will hopefully help the committee, so please feel completely free to call upon us at any time. Our job is to serve parliamentarians. We enjoy doing this and would like to be at your service in whatever way we can.
I'm pleased to be here today to present the findings of my fall 2015 reports, which were tabled in the House of Commons on January 26. I'm accompanied by Andrew, Kim, and Joe, and they were responsible for the actual reports.
The first audit we looked at examined how the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has managed selected aspects of its mandate. The agency is tasked with determining which pesticide products should be registered for use in Canada and under which conditions. There are currently 7,000 pesticides containing some 600 active ingredients available in the Canadian marketplace.
The agency is required to re-evaluate the safety of registered pesticides every 15 years. Ninety-five per cent of the agency's re-evaluations have resulted in additional precautions to protect human health or the environment.
During the period under audit, the agency completed some 14 re-evaluations per year. At the end of our audit, more than six times that number remained incomplete. With more re-evaluations due to start each year, the agency needs to quicken its pace to prevent unacceptable risks to people and the environment from the unsafe use of pesticide products.
I am also concerned that it took the agency an average of five years—and up to eleven years—to remove some pesticides from the market when it determined that they posed unacceptable risks for all uses.
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency may grant a conditional registration when it finds it needs more information to confirm its assessment of a product's value and of the risks to human health or the environment. During the time a pesticide is conditionally registered, it can be bought and used, and other products containing the same active ingredient may also be marketed.
We found that nine products remained conditionally registered for more than a decade. Eight of these belong to the neonicotinoid class of pesticides. These products continue to be used extensively in Canada despite widespread concern that they may pose a threat to bees, other pollinators, and broader ecosystems. We did note that the agency announced it will no longer grant conditional registrations starting June 1 of this year.
Our second audit examined the National Energy Board's oversight of federally regulated pipelines. The energy board sets the requirements that companies must satisfy to ensure the safe operation of some 73,000 kilometres of pipelines that are used to transport oil and gas to customers in Canada and abroad.
Our audit concluded that the board did not adequately track companies' implementation of pipeline approval conditions, and that it was not consistently following up on company deficiencies. We found that the board's tracking systems were outdated and inefficient.
We also concluded that the National Energy Board is facing ongoing challenges to recruit and retain specialists in pipeline integrity and regulatory compliance.
With the anticipated increase of pipeline capacity and the coming into force of the Pipeline Safety Act by June 2016, it is clear that the National Energy Board needs to do more to keep pace with the rapidly changing context in which it is operating.
Our final audit examined selected departments' progress in meeting the commitments made in their sustainable development strategies to strengthen their strategic environmental assessment practices.
Cabinet has required, since 1990, that 26 government departments and agencies carry out strategic environmental assessments of the proposed programs and policies they submit to ministers when implementation could have important positive or negative impacts on the environment.
In our 2015 audit we found that the current cabinet directive was applied to only five of the more than 1,700 proposals submitted to the ministers responsible for Agriculture Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Heritage, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
This means, for example, that no information about potentially important environmental effects was provided to support the proposal for the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games. Similarly, the cabinet directive was not applied to the proposed transfer for the purposes of building a hospital on 60 acres of land of designated historical importance.
We also presented parliamentarians with our annual report on environmental petitions. These petitions are important mechanisms created by Parliament as a way for Canadians to get answers from federal ministers to their questions relating to the environment and sustainable development.
Our office received 15 environmental petitions on a range of topics, including the transport of hazardous substances and concerns about human and environmental health. In 97% of cases, departments and agencies provided their responses within the 120-day statutory deadline. Overall, these responses were complete and relevant.
Past petitions have prompted such action by federal departments as new environmental projects, follow-up on alleged violations, and changes or clarifications in policies and practices. I encourage all Canadians to use this important mechanism.
Finally, as you know, we provide Parliament with information that can be used by parliamentary committees when they conduct hearings on our reports or on audit-related topics. To help you in this capacity I've attached to my opening statement a list of questions you may wish to ask department officials should such hearings take place.
I hope you will find this information useful. It was another member of Parliament who indicated to me in the past that these questions were very helpful to them.
Madam Chair, that concludes my opening remarks. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.