Thank you, Chair. I hope it will be under 10 minutes.
I also hope it will be useful for the committee to refer to three past audits of relevance to the current deliberations. As you can understand, I cannot comment on any policy matters related to this discussion, so I hope it is relevant.
In 2009 we examined how the government's fish habitat policy was being implemented. We noted that protecting fish habitat was critical to safeguard places where fish spawn, feed, grow, and live, as well as to support aquatic and terrestrial wildlife and to protect the quality of fresh water for Canada's lakes and rivers.
We found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada could not demonstrate that the fish habitat was being adequately protected. For instance, Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not measure habitat loss or gain. It also had limited information on the state of fish habitat—that is, on fish stocks, the amount and quality of fish habitat, contaminants in fish, and overall water quality.
We reported that past streamlining efforts to focus limited resources on projects that pose a higher risk to habitat showed little signs of success. For example, monitoring of mitigation measures by DFO was rarely done. We also reported that Environment Canada actively enforced only two of the six pollution regulations under the Fisheries Act.
Turning to our past work presented to Parliament related to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, in 2009 we examined the overall implementation of the act. Our findings were both positive and negative. For comprehensive studies and panel reviews we observed compliance with the act's requirements. However, various problems hindered the most common category of assessment: screenings.
Screenings are currently used to assess environmental effects for a wide range of projects. These are often small projects; however, screenings are also currently conducted for more significant undertakings such as mines, dams, and some offshore energy development projects under a certain production threshold. Although mitigation of negative environmental effects were required in over 75% of the screenings we reviewed, there was little evidence that mitigation measures were actually completed.
In the fall of 2011, we examined how cumulative environmental effects as referenced in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act were being considered. Specifically, we examined projects in the oil sands region of northern Alberta.
The audit found information gaps over the past decade—gaps in scientific data that is needed to determine the combined environmental effects on multiple projects in the same region. These include impacts on water quantity and quality, air quality, on fish and fish habitat, as well as more general effects on land and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
We noted the significant progress the government has made in announcing in 2011 a new environmental monitoring system for the region. This system would be capable of establishing baseline environmental data critical to understanding the cumulative impact of projects.
In conclusion, let me suggest some questions the subcommittee members may wish to explore in relation to the changes to CEAA and the Fisheries Act.
First, the subcommittee may wish to consider reviewing what types of projects will be included and excluded under the proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, including the threshold or criteria used to establish the project list. The subcommittee may wish to explore whether certain projects now requiring a screening-level environmental assessment will be excluded from the list of designated projects to be finalized with the regulations. Examples that come to mind include offshore oil and gas projects and activities, certain mining developments, and aquaculture.
The subcommittee may also wish to identify how assessment of cumulative effects will be carried out, in light of substitution and equivalency to be handled by the provinces.
Finally, on the proposed changes to fish habitat, a general question is how the proposed focus on commercial, recreational, and aboriginal fisheries will align with assessing aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems more broadly.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my statement.