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NEWS: Environmental commissioner raises the alarm on Harper government’s practices

Canada’s environmental commissioner Scott Vaughan released two reports today – one on the enforcement of safety standards, the other on the future of Canadian fish stocks. In both reports, the Harper government should receive a failing grade.

Safety standards
The Toronto Star reports, “When it comes to the shipping of dangerous chemicals on highways and railroads and the pumping of millions of litres of oil and gas across the country, the federal government’s record of cracking down on companies who violate safety standards leaves a lot to be desired. That’s just one of the many alarming findings made by federal Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan in a damning report tabled to Parliament Tuesday. The report documents a series of problems across Transport Canada, the National Energy Board, and Environment Canada, including a failure to enforce safety regulations and a lack of required training for inspectors. But the most common problem among the departments is a lack of follow-up after violations have been discovered.”

“In his audit of Transport Canada, Vaughan and his team examined 49 compliance reports for inspections done between 2008 and 2010. Inspectors found violations in more than half, including problems with containers used to transport dangerous goods (such as explosives, sulphuric acid, ammonia), and missing warning labels. But despite the identification of these problems, there was no evidence of any corrective action taken by Transport Canada in most cases. The trend of failing to follow up could also be found at the National Energy Board, the federal agency responsible for regulating Canada’s oil and gas industries. In an audit sample of 56 compliance reports conducted between 2007 and 2010, inspectors indentified deficiencies in 64 per cent of the files. But Vaughan’s team found that inspectors had followed up on a mere seven per cent of the cases to ensure corrective action had been taken. With regard to his audit of Environment Canada, Vaughan said his office found that the department does not have adequate laboratory testing equipment to verify whether a company was complying with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, while enforcement officers have inadequate training to identify all violators. His office found that the department had trouble enforcing 16 of 45 regulations under the Act, while inspectors lacked required training to enforce five of the regulations.”

Postmedia News adds, “Crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas liquids and natural gas move through about 71,000 kilometres of pipeline, and explosives are also shipped for use by mining and construction industries.

Vaughan said every week there are an average of two incidents involving the transport of dangerous products in Canada and an average of one pipeline incident, which could range from a minor leak to a major break or even an explosion.”

Fisheries
Another Postmedia News article notes, “The availability of future Canadian fish stocks cannot be taken for granted and parliamentarians must ask themselves some tough questions about the sustainability of the country’s fisheries, says a new report from Canada’s environmental watchdog. The federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development says in his annual report that the long-term health of Canadian fisheries depends on developing, implementing and closely evaluating plans aimed at sustainability. ‘The decline in some major fish stocks in Canada highlights the need to better understand trends and to promote sustainable fisheries management,’ federal commissioner Scott Vaughan says in his report. ‘The availability of fish cannot be taken for granted.’ …’Parliamentarians may wish to ask whether the current legislative and management framework for fisheries addresses adequately the challenges described in this study and incorporates the key properties of sustainability.'”

The Council of Canadians
These reports indicate a failure by the Harper government to enforce safety standards and protect Canada’s fisheries. It is even more problematic that staffing shortages are identified as a major concern – and that the Harper government is pursuing an austerity agenda that will see the loss of thousands of federal civil servants, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=12253. With plans for more pipelines to export bitumen from the tar sands, permission to transport radioactive waste by ship across the Great Lakes, processes underway for trucks or rail cars to transport nuclear waste across the country to a massive underground storage facility, fracking operations using toxic chemicals on the rise, and the Schedule 2 provision allowing for freshwater lakes with fish stock to be polluted with mine waste, these reports signal cause for serious concern and action by people to stop these destructive and dangerous practices.