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Congratulations to both the federal and provincial environmental commissioners, who continue to strenuously remind our governments how far they fall short on environmental stewardship, and who both issued powerful reports this week. Bees, Algonquin Park, “Chemical Alley”, urban sprawl, climate change, weak environmental assessment, inadequate commitment to environmental monitoring in the oil sands: there is no shortage of environmental crises that require urgent responses.

Ontario: Bees and Neonicotinoids

Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller says the Ontario government “needs to take swift action and commit dedicated resources in order to avert a potential ecological and economic crisis” from the precipitous decline of pollinators such as bees. “There is now abundant evidence linking bee kills to neonicotinoid contaminated dust generated during the planting of seed-treated crops… If [federal] measures prove to be insufficient, restrictions on seed treatment with neonicotinoids should be considered by the Ontario government for the 2015 planting season… The steps taken today to protect pollinators will determine the state of our biodiversity and food security for years to come.

Cutting down Algonquin Park

Commissioner Miller calls on the province to stop logging Algonquin Park, Ontario’s only provincial park where logging is permitted. As the Commissioner puts it, “I am deeply disturbed that Ontario’s flagship Park continues to receive the lowest level of protection of any of the province’s protected areas.” We agree. The ecological integrity of the park has long been sacrificed to maintain jobs in the surrounding area; the continuing destruction of old growth forests in Algonquin Park is a particular travesty.

Commissioner Miller also chides the Ontario provincial government for failing to get urban sprawl under control in the Greater Toronto Area, and for doing so little to protect air quality in a heavily polluted first nation reserve close to Sarnia’s “chemical alley”.

Federal: weak assessment and monitoring

Meanwhile, Federal Commissioner of the Environment and of Sustainable Development, Julie Gelfand, has issued her first report. She describes substantial weaknesses in the federal government’s implementation of its own Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (2012) and progress, but inadequate federal commitment, on environmental monitoring and regulation in the oil sands.

The report also highlights significant safety concerns regarding marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic, noting that the Arctic coastline remains inadequately mapped, and that the government is short of icebreakers, with the two most effective ships to be decommissioned by 2022.

Climate change

Unsurprisingly, the federal Commissioner also reports that the Canadian government has made unsatisfactory progress in each of four benchmark areas for mitigating climate change, and that Canada’s Copenhagen Accord target of a 17-percent reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2020 will almost certainly be missed:

Overall, we found that federal departments have made unsatisfactory progress in each of the four areas examined. Despite some advances since our 2012 audit, timelines for putting measures in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not been met and departments are not yet able to assess whether measures in place are reducing emissions as expected. We also found that Environment Canada lacks an approach for coordinating actions with the provinces and territories to achieve the national target, and an effective planning process for how the federal government will contribute to achieving the Copenhagen target. In 2012, we concluded that the federal regulatory approach was unlikely to lead to emission reductions sufficient to meet the 2020 Copenhagen target. Two years later, the evidence is stronger that the growth in emissions will not be reversed in time and that the target will be missed.

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