Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

Issue 18 - Evidence - October 18, 2005

OTTAWA, Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources met this day at 5:13 p.m. to examine and report on emerging issues related to its mandate.

Senator Tommy Banks (Chairman) in the chair.


The Chairman: We have a quorum and we shall begin. I will call the meeting to order. I apologize to our guests.

Just before I come to the substance of today's meeting, I want to remind you that an in camera session will follow the meeting with our witnesses. I want you to consider something following that because it has been raised today in the house as a point of privilege.

I want you to know before you hear from our witnesses that the vice-chair, our researchers, the clerk and I last night had an informal meeting convened by me with two of our witnesses, Ms. Gélinas and Mr. Maxwell, for the purpose of being better prepared for today's meeting.

A question of privilege has been raised today in the house as to whether that kind of meeting is appropriate or in fact allowed, and I would like to have your comments on that in the business part of the in camera meeting following the conclusion of the discussion with our witnesses.

Before we go on, I want to introduce to members and welcome the newest permanent member of our committee — to the extent these things are permanent. Senator Tardif is sitting there, and I am delighted you are with us. Congratulations. Another senator from Alberta has joined us.

Getting to the business at hand, we have from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Ms. Gélinas, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development; Mr. Affleck, who is a principal in the office; Mr. Arseneault, who is a principal in the office; and Mr. Maxwell, who is a principal in the office, all of whom have been with us before. We are grateful for that.

I hope that you will agree, Ms. Gélinas, that the best approach would be for you to give us an overview of your most recent report, which was recently tabled in Parliament. Then we might discuss, after questions from members, ways in which we can work synergistically towards those areas in which we concur.

Johanne Gélinas, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: Good evening, senators. If I may, I will take 15 minutes to walk you through the report. I have an opening statement. Then I will be more than happy to answer any of your questions. As Senator Banks said, I am here with three of my principals.


Let me start off by observing that everywhere in the world, nature is sending the clear message that our current path is unsustainable, and Canada is no exception.

If Canada is to halt this decline, we must all take bold steps toward building a sustainable society, with government leading the way. Will this country be among those that anticipate and prevent environmental degradation, thus saving money and creating economic opportunities? The answer may be no, unless the leadership and performance of the federal government improve markedly.

Helping government achieve this kind of improvement is your goal as well as mine.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the position of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. I would like to acknowledge the very good relationship we have built with parliamentarians, particularly those on the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources.

I was very pleased to read this committee's report, tabled last June, entitled Sustainable Development: It's Time to Walk the Talk. The findings, expressed in strong language, were refreshing and right on target. I liked it so much in fact that I cited the report in my Commissioner's Perspective — 2005.

The work of my office would not be as effective without parliamentary scrutiny of federal departments, holding them to account. I would like to come back later this evening to the issue of accountability and reporting.

My latest report demonstrated that while the government may start off well by making commendable commitments to sustainable development, it does not often reach the finish line. In fact, the theme that runs throughout my report is a chronic inability on the part of the federal government to see its initiatives through to completion. Let me give you some examples.


As the first major industrialized country to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, Canada committed itself to conserving its biodiversity and using it sustainably. That is why in 1996 Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments endorsed the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. Since then, federal action on that strategy has stalled on several fronts.

Canada still lacks an overall picture of the state of our biodiversity and how it is changing over time. Without this, how can we possibly hope to protect it?

This is the third time we have looked at federal implementation of the strategy, and we found that problems identified in our previous audits persist. The strong voice of parliamentarians is needed to break out of this pattern.

In response to our audit, Environment Canada has committed to laying out concrete results that it will work toward. With your help, we can make certain that the government does indeed set goals and ensure that it reaches them.

Like biodiversity, oceans are an important part of Canada's natural capital. Unfortunately, our oceans are deteriorating, and the federal government's performance in protecting them is lacking.

With the passing of the 1996 Oceans Act, Canada became the first country in the world to have comprehensive oceans management legislation. Almost a decade later, the government has not succeeded in using the tools provided by the Oceans Act to protect and develop our oceans in a sustainable way.

Clearly, implementing the act has not been a priority for the government. Use of the basic tools to implement the act — marine protected areas and integrated management plans — have fallen short of targets.

There are some 55 activities to be completed in the coming year. Oversight is urgently needed to ensure that the Oceans Action Plan, released a few months ago, will be more successful than we have seen so far.


Let me now turn to another aspect of natural capital: efforts to protect Canada's national parks. Canada's 41 national parks represent the country's diverse landscape and natural heritage. However, their ecosystems and biodiversity are under pressure.

Parks Canada is the agency responsible for protecting and restoring the environments of our national parks. It has received major new funding to carry this out.

Our audit shows that Parks Canada is heading in the right direction, for example, by making a commitment to improve how it monitors and restores the ecological integrity of national parks.

While new funding has given the Agency an opportunity to make a real difference in the management of the parks, the next few years will be critical.


One of the essentials of daily life is access to safe drinking water. In a country like ours, we all assume that the water we drink is of high quality. The truth is, in some areas where the federal government has responsibility, not all Canadians can be sure their drinking water is safe. This includes the nearly half-million Canadians living in First Nations communities.

The government has known for years that an overwhelming majority of water systems in First Nations communities pose health risks. Between 1995 and 2003, almost $2 billion was spent to build and operate drinking water and sewer systems on First Nations' land. Between 2003 and 2008, a further $1.8 billion will be devoted to those projects. Unless strong action is taken, it is unlikely that this money, including $600 million invested in the First Nations Water Management Strategy, will result in safer drinking water in the future.

The major problems include the lack of laws and regulations on drinking water in First Nations communities and inadequate support given to First Nations for operations and maintenance.


Parliamentary committees can ask the tough questions, such as how will the government work with First Nations to examine the regulatory protection and technical support necessary to ensure this money is well spent.

The federal government is also responsible for making sure that drinking water is safe at federal sites, including military bases, national parks and federal facilities.

Guidelines produced by the federal government, in partnership with provinces and territories, set the mandatory standards for drinking water at these sites. Provinces also use these guidelines in different ways, ranging from general guidance to legally required standards.

Although a sound process is in place to develop guidelines for allowable contaminant levels in drinking water, it takes too long to develop and update these guidelines. A process that should take two to three years often takes four to eight. A backlog of guidelines on water contaminants may take 10 years to work through. This is not helped by a 20 per cent budget cut between 2001 and 2005 affecting the Health Canada unit tasked with developing the guidelines.

Federal responsibility also includes passenger trains, aircraft, and cruise ships that travel between provinces or internationally. Health Canada inspects water on cruise ships and passenger trains, but not on aircraft. This means that Canadian travelers do not know for sure that the water used for drinking and food preparation on aircraft is safe.


Sustainable development is the approach Canada has adopted to protect the environment while achieving social and economic progress. It encourages the responsible use of natural, human and economic resources.

In my five years as Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, I have seen uneven performance by the federal government in creating and implementing a sustainable development approach. Green procurement is a case in point. The federal government is failing to take advantage of this important tool.

The federal government is one of the largest buyers in Canada. It spends some $13 billion a year on a wide range of goods and services such as office supplies, laboratory equipment, vehicles and building maintenance. For many years, the federal government has acknowledged that buying environmentally friendly products could significantly boost their availability, reduce environmental impacts and stimulate innovation. However, after more than a decade of promises, the federal government still lacks a green procurement policy. As a result, opportunities to make environmentally sound choices are missed every day.

I know that green procurement is an important issue for this committee, as it recommended a federal green procurement policy in its report, Sustainable Development: It's Time to Walk the Talk.

The government has created momentum on green procurement by giving new responsibility to Public Works and Government Services Canada and by announcing commitments in the Speech from the Throne. The question is: Will the government lose another decade? Updates from the government to your committee will help ensure that green procurement and greening government become a routine part of how the departments operate.


Unfortunately, the government has also failed to deliver its long-promised federal strategy to coordinate departmental sustainable development efforts.

A federal sustainable development strategy would give the government an environment and sustainable development agenda with key priorities. Without such a strategy, parliamentarians and Canadians have no idea of where the federal government plans to go, or how it intends to get there.

A deputy ministers' committee has been tasked with delivering this federal strategy which would influence the next round of sustainable development strategies from individual departments expected by the end of 2006.

Development of the federal strategy faces several hurdles, including the possibility for confusion and duplication, amid other federal initiatives such as Project Green, which the government intends to expand beyond climate change, and the Competitiveness and Environmental Sustainability Framework.

I would encourage you to ensure that this deputy ministers' committee stays on track where previous committees have failed. Progress reports from the Deputy Minister who chairs that committee will help keep us all informed on progress.

I note that some of the recommendations from my chapter on sustainable development strategies are consistent with the findings in this committee's report, tabled last June.


In that respect, I think we should work more together in trying to move the agenda forward.


I am pleased to say that Canadians are continuing to take advantage of the environmental petitions process coordinated by my Office to get answers to their questions about environmental and sustainable development issues. Auditing the government's response to petitions submitted by Canadians gives me the opportunity to examine environmental issues that might not have come to my attention otherwise. This year, we audited three government responses to environmental petitions on insurance for nuclear operators, guidelines for listing species at risk, and the environmental impacts of hog farming.


The issue of liability insurance for nuclear operators is ripe for attention. The minimum amounts required in Canada are lower than those in 12 other industrialized countries and have not been updated in almost 30 years.

In 2001, this committee recommended an immediate action to update the minimum insurance requirements. As you are aware, Natural Resources Canada did not respond formally to that recommendation. In response to the recommendation in my report, the department has acknowledged the need to act but has not yet committed to any fixed date.

The audits discussed in my report this year and, indeed, through my tenure so far as commissioner, have highlighted a chronic problem in the federal government — an inability to sustain initiatives through completion once they are launched. As I said when I tabled my report, bold announcements are made and then seem to be forgotten as soon as the confetti hits the ground. In the first part of my report, the commissioner's perspective, I point to several root causes of this unfortunate phenomenon.

First, the federal government often makes promises without putting in place the structure or resources to deliver results. What does it say about a government commitment when there is not enough money or people to stand behind it? The oceans strategy and green procurement are examples of this.

Second, senior officials are not held accountable. Holding them to account should include linking their performance contracts to achieving results in sustainability. When there are no consequences for success or failure and key people are moved in and out of key positions, there is no accountability. I am by no means the only one calling for this. Parliamentarians have looked at the issue of accountability and have come to the same conclusion.

Third, organizational silos and turf protection between departments gets in the way of integrating environmental sustainability. Victims of this failure to integrate include marine protected areas and the federal freshwater framework.

Finally, the government constantly reinvents the wheel by changing key staff or the design of programs without regard for results. The stalled progress on the Canadian biodiversity strategy is the poster child of this problem.


As commissioner, I can only provide this information on the government's performance. You, as parliamentarians, are the true environmental watchdogs. In this way, there is a mutually beneficial relationship between my Office and your work.

The federal government has recently embarked on a number of ambitious environmental and sustainable development initiatives and I understand the Minister of the Environment will be speaking about these initiatives here next week.

Some of the initiatives announced include Project Green, climate change and green procurement. The last budget announced significant funds for environmental and sustainable development issues.

There is momentum here that should not be missed, but I am troubled by the government's poor record when it comes to sustaining its initiatives.

The government must find a way to cross the finish line. Parliamentarians have a key role to play by holding government to account for achieving results on the environment and sustainable development.


The Chairman: Thank you.

Senator Cochrane: Thank you, commissioner, for coming to speak with us. You are as welcome as the flowers in May, as they say back home. I commend you and your team for a very powerful report. Your findings only compound my own frustration as to what is happening.

In terms of the Oceans Act, you tell us that DFO has failed to report regularly on the state of our oceans. Only two weeks ago, I had people in my office complaining because our oceans are in terrible condition and wondering what could be done about it, and here you are reporting on the Oceans Act.

You mentioned the biodiversity strategy and say government still has not solved the problems that were identified in two previous audits. You also go on and on about the drinking water and so on.

Commissioner, I wonder where we begin as a committee. What do we do? How can we make these things become a reality? You put forth these terrible conditions, and how can we be sure that they will be acted on? From your perspective, tell us how our committee can best work to bring these issues to the forefront and bring about the change that is needed.

Ms. Gélinas: Based on my five years experience, which is not that much, I can see a pattern. I have used this expression in the past. When we keep the department's feet to the fire, it makes a difference. It is one thing for us to do an audit and report on findings and conclusions, but departments have so many priorities or issues to deal with that they may switch from one issue to another. If we can find a way to keep their attention on some specific issues and if Canadians and you as parliamentarians can make sure that they will focus on those issues, we can see a difference. I have seen that. My colleagues can give you many examples of that.

I said in my opening statement that I bring this information to you, and then you have to take on after and do something about it. You can ask for periodic reports and keep those issues, whatever ones you prioritize, alive in their mind, and the department will be forced in some way to pursue and make progress. They can come here on a regular basis and make clear what they have done, what they have not done, and the good reasons why they could not go further. Then Canadians, through the releasing of this information into the public domain, will be able to know what progress we are making. They will be the last judge. You will be the last judge in telling Canadians if we are moving in the right direction and if we are moving fast enough to address problems.

Basically, Senator Cochrane, I am saying that we need your help, as do they, to make sure that they stay on track and report on progress. The more often they come here to answer your questions and present periodic progress reports, the more we will know about what is going on.

On my side, if I may just add one point, we do regular follow-ups on our audits and recommendations, but we usually do that after two years. That is too late, in many ways. Unfortunately, we cannot do regular follow-up on everything, as we have to do other audits. Therefore, we need your help in between to do some follow-up too. When you ask questions, you are almost doing a follow-up for us, and we can track progress and then report back and have some factual information about progress that has been made.

Senator Cochrane: That sounds pretty good. You said your follow-up is after two years, and two years is a long time. Within two years, we can have a change of parties. We can have change of ministers. We can have change of staff people who have been working on these things.

Senator Milne: That is the problem.

Senator Cochrane: You have a good point. Maybe we should put our feet to the fire and get information and results as soon as we can in our committee, senator. Thank you so much. I am sure there are other questions. I do not want to take up all the time.

The Chairman: There will be a second round, I am sure. I hope members will agree that we can forgo the strict rules and go in the order in which senators have raised their hand, and that Senator Grafstein will be next. Is that agreeable, notwithstanding that he is a guest?

Senator Grafstein: I am not a member of the committee. I will defer to existing members of the committee, and if there are other senators, I will follow them.

The Chairman: I think everyone has agreed to your going now. Did they not?

Senator Grafstein: I normally like to defer to sitting members.

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for drawing this hearing to my attention. As members of the committee know, and I think the commissioner knows, this is an interest of mine.

I did introduce a bill some years ago to amend the Food and Drug Act to add clean drinking water as a responsibility of the food and drug agency. It went through two readings and to this committee. This committee unanimously recommended its adoption, and then it was stalled in the Senate by the government and members on the government side because there was an argument about constitutionality and also the question of interference in or incursion into provincial jurisdiction.

I know you are familiar with the bill. I have reintroduced it and I intend to speak to it on second reading later this week or early the following week. Your information here is helpful to me because it is difficult to obtain statistics and information from one place about what I consider to be a deep crisis in Canadian public health — and that is bad drinking water.

My first question is, since Walkerton and the landmark study of Mr. Justice O'Connor, what is your view of the improvement or lack of it in ensuring clean drinking water across the country? Break it down into two categories: one, those areas where the provinces are involved; and two, where we have direct responsibility federally, which is in the Aboriginal communities.

Ms. Gélinas: I can only answer the latter part of your question because we have not looked at what was going on at the provincial level. As you know, drinking water is a shared jurisdiction, so we have looked essentially at what was the federal responsibility.

We have two chapters dealing with that. The first one looks at the federal responsibility on First Nations reserves. The other one has looked at three things — and my colleague will be able to add a little on that — including the guidelines, because the government, through Health Canada, plays a scientific role in providing guidelines.

Senator Grafstein: These are voluntary guidelines.

Ms. Gélinas: Absolutely, these are voluntary guidelines. They can be used as such and put in provincial regulations or not, as I said earlier. That is the first aspect we have looked at.

We have looked also at federal employees' protection because the guidelines are part of the Labour Code, through which federal employees have to be provided with safe drinking water. Third, we have looked at common carriers, and there we have said that inspections are no longer done by Health Canada.

If I come back to your question about First Nations, we have said essentially that we cannot tell how safe the water is on First Nations reserves. However, we have information given to us in the course of the audit by Health Canada that referred to a study done in 2001 showing that three quarters of the systems were not providing safe drinking water. That is one issue.

We have seen also that the procedures that should be followed by First Nations or Health Canada to ensure that the water is tested, that the results show that the water is good and if not some actions are taken, are not.

It is through funding agreements that Health Canada and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development develop the conditions under which First Nations should deliver safe drinking water. The audit has proven also that there is no follow-up on the implementation or the respecting of the conditions, and it is not clear who is responsible for that. Therefore, there are many aspects of the follow-up that fall between the cracks. The bottom line is that First Nations communities cannot be assured that their water is safe.

Senator Grafstein: Mr. Chairman, just indulge me for a moment. The federal government in the United States passed a clean drinking water act in 1972 or 1974 to provide federal oversight, regulation and enforceable standards of clean drinking water; unlike us, who provide guidelines. The guidelines, as you have said in your evidence, are delayed; even the guidelines are not up to date.

One of the positive aspects of that bill — this relates to what to do with this huge set of problems, how to give some guidance to the public and ourselves — was to provide an online service so people can tap into their region and find out whether the water in their community is safe and the last time it was tested.

Would that be a useful reform?

Ms. Gélinas: I do not think I am in a position to say if it would be a good thing or not. We have highlighted some major problems that need to be addressed. If there is good news in all that, it is that departments and ministers have publicly agreed with those recommendations and have said that they will work on it.

Richard Arseneault, Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: I would like to add something to what the commissioner has just said. You have asked a good question: Since Walkerton, what has been going on? Things have been happening at the provincial level — we know that because we read the paper.

At the federal level, interdepartmental committees at the senior level, ADM level committees, made a decision to create what is called the federal water framework. There is still a policy that the federal government put in place in 1987, the federal water policy, which is really stagnant. It is going nowhere. It is there to inform readers about what is going on but it is not being implemented. The government has not reported against this policy for 10 years.

Now they have created this new policy, the federal water framework. There is a vision there; clean, safe and secure water for people and ecosystems in Canada. This was introduced in 2004. It was approved by the deputy ministers' committee, but you know what? It is going nowhere. They spent money, time and effort on producing something that is a good first step in terms of where the federal government is going with water issues, but it is now becoming stagnant, like the old policy.

We have made recommendations to Environment Canada. We said, ``Your federal water framework sounds like a good first step. There are five outcomes in there. What are you doing about these outcomes?'' They did not respond to that. Or it was a fluffy response.

Now they say that they are creating another, larger framework at Environment Canada that is supposed to guide the federal government. It is an economic and environmental framework. They say the federal water framework will slot underneath this other, bigger framework, so it is confusing to say the least.

Senator Grafstein: I will complete this. I would like to come back to another topic. It strikes me, commissioner, while I understand that you are circumscribed as an officer of Parliament by federal jurisdiction, that there are two overlapping pieces of federal jurisdiction here. One is the responsibility for the regulation of water per se. As you have outlined, the federal government has responsibility for water on airplanes and buses. The federal government does regulate bottled water, so in effect there is regulation of drinking water.

On the other hand, the health costs of bad drinking water are not aggregated. We do not know the cost to our public health system as a result of bad drinking water. We have anecdotal information. Is it within your purview, your responsibility, to take a look at that and go to Health Canada, to all the agencies within the federal government responsible for public health, and find out why? If not, have they aggregated information about the damage to individuals' health as a result of bad drinking water?

We heard evidence from Aboriginal communities in Wawa some years ago that if a woman in Grassy Narrows, Ontario, wanted to have a baby, to be on the safe side she had to leave the reservation for three years to cleanse her womb so she would not run the risk of giving birth to a deformed child. That was a scandal and the government has direct responsibilities, but this goes on today.

Professor Schindler and I worked on a format to try to figure out the cost to the public health system. We calculated that taxpayers were paying a couple of billion dollars a year as a result of bad drinking water, and that was under- reported.

Do you intend to get at those figures to somehow alert the government and the public health officials about what I consider to be a public health crisis?

Ms. Gélinas: We have not addressed the specific question. Certainly, we can ask the question in another audit. The fastest way for you, senator, or any other Canadian, to ask the question is through the petition process. That is a simple way by which any Canadian can ask a member of Parliament, through me, to ask what the department has done.

Senator Grafstein: I have just asked the question.

Ms. Gélinas: You still have to write that down on paper, sign it and send to me, but it is as simple as that. Within 120 days, the minister has to respond to your question.

We know that information on drinking water for First Nations was not available through the audit. Health Canada does not do inspections on airplanes, so this information was not readily accessible. There might be bits and pieces of information, but nothing that can truly give you a portrait.

Mr. Arseneault: There are regulations on airplanes. Health Canada has regulations on providing potable water to travellers. A regulation states that the airlines are supposed to provide potable water and Health Canada is supposed to inspect it. Health Canada does not do that.

The Chairman: I appreciate that the question Senator Grafstein is after is a complicated one. Extrapolating the health cost of bad drinking water in Canada is a complicated question that probably could not be answered within 120 days. Do you sometimes get answers within that 120-day petition period saying ``We are working on it and we will let you know later?''

Ms. Gélinas: It is an exception when we delay the response time on a request. In most cases, we get thoughtful responses from the departments within that period. You can ask more than one question in your request; you can have a list of questions. My role is to make sure you get an answer. I do not get involved in the response, per se, but I make sure that all your questions are answered.

The Chairman: It is like a more efficient Access to Information Act.

Senator Grafstein: Imagine how the consumer must be frustrated.

Senator Christensen: I come back after our break feeling cynical and depressed. Most of you have heard of the Massey lectures, the short history of civilization that CBC broadcasts. They are five hours in length. I took a trip to Watson Lake. It takes five hours to drive down there and five hours to drive back; I played it twice. I look at what we are doing. Our history is littered with failed civilizations, very sophisticated civilizations that came crashing down. What brought them down in every case was the environment. They were depleting their soils to try to make more. Their civilizations were healthy and growing fast so they used more fertilizers and depleted their soils. They depleted their forests for building materials and fuel, but in doing so, they suddenly had no water. Then they had no food, no shelter, and the civilization crashes.

We sit here and see what is happening, but we deal with it in a piecemeal fashion. We are talking about water, but it is a holistic problem. We can solve the water problem, but that will not solve the other problems that will have a direct effect on the environment.

There must be a long-term commitment, which is difficult for any government because governments must work within an election period. They have a mandate for four to five years and that is the end of it. You do not make those long-term commitments.

I think the Senate is the answer because we are here long term. Perhaps the Senate should be given the responsibility for the environment because we can make those types of decisions. Given your position, how do you think those long- term commitments can be made in a holistic way so that we can deal with these issues? The problems are obvious. The solutions are also obvious, but how do we get the commitment? As governments and leaders we have a responsibility to resolve these problems. How do we get these commitments going?

Ms. Gélinas: First, no matter how complex the problem, it should not be a showstopper; we have to start somewhere. Mr. Arsenault was talking about the water framework, and before that, the water policy. We said a couple of years ago that the government has not done anything to implement the water policy, and we would probably not be where we are now, which is not very far, if we had done something to implement the policy in 1987. My hope is that we would have made some progress, but we have to start somewhere.

There are examples this year of action, but there is no coordination. We are reinventing the wheel, which is one of the root causes of the problem. Let us get on with the job and move ahead.

The other aspect that is missing, and it comes across in this year's report, is that we are not gathering the basic information to understand biodiversity and the state of our oceans, and it is not just me saying that. The departments themselves have acknowledged that they do not have the basic information on the state of our oceans. They do not have the basic information to understand our biodiversity and to decide what should be the priorities in addressing some of the biodiversity issues. As I have said, we have to start somewhere.

In addition, we should not take things for granted. We are a rich country. We think that biodiversity is not at risk. An international report was issued not too long ago. More than 1,300 experts from around the world said that biodiversity is the emerging key issue and that we must address it globally and act locally.

We are no different from others. We have to act on our own problems. It is not that the problems are unknown. We have made that point in previous years. We know the issues and we have to act upon them. It is a question of getting on with the job of setting the priorities and delivering results.

Certainly, one way to get there is to have Senate and Commons committees play an oversight role.

Senator Christensen, it is true that you represent the long term and it is important that people remember what has to be done, the commitments and the progress made.

Neil Maxwell, Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: I would say that part of the answer lies in the recommendation that you made in your June report, which we echoed: That the government could provide that long- term focus to all its activities through an overall plan on environment and sustainable development — the so-called federal sustainable development strategy. We talk in the report about the fact that that could provide that long-term vision and sense of the key priorities. It is quite a concern to us that we see so many different activities but wonder how they fit together and what the government's overall game plan is. It is difficult for parliamentarians, auditors and the Canadian public to know.

Senator Spivak: It is a pleasure to have you appear before the committee because you are constantly urging the Senate to become more aggressive; and that is a good thing. Some of us have tried to be aggressive individually — Senator Grafstein, Senator Kenny and I — but we have been beaten down. Perhaps as a committee we need to grow stronger in our efforts.

It seems that the government does broad policy planning but does not develop any tactics or strategy. Are there other strategies for us, because we hear witness testimony and issue reports? Senator Kenny's bill, which laid out a framework for what the federal government should do about their car fleets, is a good example. Should this committee put a few more arrows in its quiver and prepare some legislative background on, for example, a sustainable development plan? If federal departments do not answer within 120 days, what is the penalty? What is the penalty for no oversight of airplanes? I would like to know what you think of that because during my time in the Senate, some good things have occurred but there has never been a big push. The Pentagon report suggests that by 2010 we will be in big trouble if the Gulf current ceases. That is true. Many different crises are approaching us at once. We cannot solve the world problem but we need to prompt the government, at any level, to act. Do you think that we ought to use legislative tools, which the Senate has but does not use often, to access areas of strategy and tactics?

Ms. Gélinas: We have not gone that far but we have stated clearly in this year's report that deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers have to be held accountable. We said that their performance contracts should contain objectives that the clerk could review from time to time to ensure that those have been met. That is one thing we have tried to push.

I will raise another aspect to this, which I have stated in the past: Do well or do badly, it does not matter, because there are no consequences in the system. Those who are trying to push and be innovative will not be rewarded and those who are not doing anything will not be penalized. There is no incentive or disincentive in the system to push for improvement. Senators might want to consider that for the future. Deputy ministers could be asked about objectives in their performance contracts to ensure that they deliver on aspects of their mandate.

Senator Spivak: When you say ``penalty'' do you mean resignation or a cut in pay?

For example, if Minister Scott Brison appeared before the committee to talk about green procurement, what should we say to him? Should we ask him, because he is not producing, why he is not firing a few people? The trick is to take a practical approach, but you have to be smart about it too. I am not sure what that method is. If you have any ideas, that would be great.

Ms. Gélinas: You are giving us a good example. We performed the audit on green procurement and when we were almost finished we were told by the minister and the deputy minister that the policy was not fine-tuned; so we must have a green procurement policy soon. The committee could take one more step and ask the minister and the deputy minister to appear before the committee to present the new policy and the game plan for implementation. Then you could ask them to come back on a regular basis, perhaps every six months, to report on the department's progress. If progress is slow, you could ask them why. Through our audit, we probably influenced the pace of producing the policy a little. I hope that we exerted a small influence on the work of the department so that you can take over and ensure that when the policy is ready, you can ask questions about the time frames, deadlines and expected results of the implementation one and two years from now. I am sure that the minister and deputy minister will be more than happy to provide the committee with those updates.

Senator Spivak: That is a good example, because they could act quickly in the area of procurement, where there is no need to take 10 years, whereas other areas may be more difficult. You cannot deal with everything at once. What is your priority in the areas that you have outlined? What would you consider to be the first, second and third priorities on the list?

Ms. Gélinas: I am not in a position to set the Government of Canada's priorities. I hope it is helpful to the committee if I provide the basic information so that you can prioritize it. The government could look at the information and set up its priorities.


Senator Tardif: Madam Commissioner, you are critical of the government's inability to carry projects to term and to implement strategies for coordinating sustainable development actions among different departments.

I am a recent appointee to the Senate and I want to be certain that I have a clear grasp of the issue. You stated that a deputy ministers' committee has been tasked with delivering a sustainable development strategy. Do you believe that this is the right approach to take in order to achieve the desired results? What is the accountability framework within which this deputy ministers' committee operates?

What obstacles does the committee face? Do you feel that this is the right approach to developing a sustainable development strategy for a number of departments?


Ms. Gélinas: I will give a little of background about the SDSs in order to give you the big picture.


With the creation of the position of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development came the obligation to deliver sustainable development strategies. Basically, the departments must come up with a game plan to put Canada on the road to sustainable development. These strategies must be revised every three years.

My office is also responsible for auditing the sustainable development strategy outcomes of each department and agency. Our report always contains a chapter on this very subject.

Twenty-eight departmental strategies do not necessarily constitute an overall sustainable development strategy. The federal government committed to delivering a strategy that individual departments could use as a guidepost to ensure that they meet national or federal objectives.

As we speak, there is still no federal strategy in place. Departments are at an impasse because the government has not made its priorities clear to them. If that were the case, they would have an easier time coordinating their efforts. Last June, your committee produced a report that was similar in tone to ours and that calls for a federal strategy that clearly identifies government priorities and directions.

With the new generation of strategies expected for 2006, everyone will be working together to achieve the same goals. The deputy ministers' committee has been tasked to deliver a federal sustainable development strategy over the course of the next year.

It would be good for committee members if Mr. Sammy Watson, Deputy Minister of the Environment, could come and outline clearly to them the mandate and game plan of the deputy ministers' committee. We do not have a clear picture of what the mandate and game plan might be, and neither do most Canadians. And certainly parliamentarians are not clear on this either.

However, what is clear is that the deputy ministers' committee has a mandate to deliver a federal sustainable development strategy over the course of the next year.

As for the accountability framework, it will be very interesting to ask the deputy ministers' committee the extent to which deputy ministers are accountable for delivering on their mandate.


Senator Milne: Thank you, Madame Gélinas, for appearing before us again and giving us pointers on what we can and should do.

Many of the issues that you have talked about with which there are real problems involve many different government departments. We are talking about Fisheries, Heritage, Aboriginal Affairs, and even Finance with regard to the mandatory amount of insurance carried on nuclear operations.

I am particularly interested in agriculture. You have said that Environment Canada and Agriculture Canada do not know whether their programs and activities are effective in reducing environmental concerns, and you spoke specifically of hog farming.

These enormous hog factory operations are a problem, as are the cattle feedlots in Alberta. I know that agriculture is a responsibility shared between the federal and provincial governments and is dealt with through cooperation between the two levels of government.

Do you have counterparts in any of the provinces? If so, do you have any dealings with them? I know that the Ontario government forces chicken slaughterhouses to have huge sewage treatment systems. Secondary treatment is required for anything that comes out of the downspout of the killing plants.

Do you know if this is required in other areas? Are hog farms in any province forced to do this?

In order to be successful, these activities and programs require more money, which comes back to Finance. This is a very expensive program.

What cooperation do you have with the different levels of government? What do you suggest we should do in this committee, which is not Finance, Heritage or Fisheries and Oceans?

Ms. Gélinas: When we talked about hog farming in our report, it was with specific reference to a petition that we received. This is a good example of Canadians raising questions about federal responsibility in the area of hog farming. We received responses and decided to audit some of the commitments made to see whether the federal government was doing what it said it would do. It was focused and not as broad as an audit in which we look at different aspects. You must understand that it is narrower than the audits we usually do.

With regard to your point on what my counterparts are doing with respect to agriculture and environmental protection, there is no equivalent to my position at the provincial level except in Ontario, where the mandate is slightly different. However, each provincial auditor general's office can choose to work on an issue related to agriculture and environment. We can work with counterparts at the provincial level. We did that in our study of aquaculture on both coasts with colleagues from New Brunswick and British Columbia. It can be done, but we have not done that in the specific area that you raised.

You may be interested in having the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food talk to you about their sustainable development strategy. That is a strategy to put agriculture on a sustainable path. Over the last couple of years, the department has developed an agricultural policy framework that has heavy emphasis on the environment and sustainable development.

You may wish to ask the department how these tools address some of your concerns related to hog farming or other activities in the area of agriculture. That would be my suggestion.

Senator Spivak: Hog farming in my own province is completely wrecking Lake Winnipeg. The federal government has clear responsibility over navigable waters and fish. They do not have to beat around the bush; they can pull a trigger very quickly. Have you looked at any of that?

Ms. Gélinas: Mr. Affleck will give details about the work we have done.

John Affleck, Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: The senator is quite correct in pointing out that the different levels of government play various roles. In terms of the federal responsibilities, Agriculture Canada is basically involved in research and development and communicating best management practices. Environment Canada definitely has an enforcement role, particularly with respect to the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans.

Under the terms of our mandate we look only at the federal responsibility, and we did look at Environment Canada. They make a significant effort to promote compliance. They could not tell us whether these efforts were effective and having an impact. When we dug into the file further, we discovered they do not track by regulation or statute how much it costs to enforce those various acts. In 2005, I believe they received $46 million in new funding to improve compliance promotion and enforcement efforts.

The bottom line is we pointed out that as a first step, they must identify the regulated community. We found the department was not even aware of where these hog farms are located and who they should be regulating. They have agreed that they will do that by the end of the fiscal year. You must start at some point. We said, ``Identify the regulated community, gather data on a national basis and prioritize your efforts, monitor the impacts of your efforts and keep comprehensive records on budgets and expenditures,'' so just the basics.

Senator Spivak: It is a huge problem.

Senator Angus: Ms. Gélinas, welcome. It is great to have you and your colleagues back. Congratulations on the good work you are doing. Obviously, you are having some effect.

I am sorry I was not here when you gave your opening statement, but I have read the document. From what I can see, you are basically echoing our recent report where we say it is time to walk the talk. If I understand what you have written here, and what you have stated on the record, you are saying that government policies are basically all talk and no action and you have deplored these grand announcements that are made and then seem to evaporate. That is obviously troubling to us.

On the other hand, there is a new minister and there has been a significant amount of talk. The minister is coming here next week to talk to us about Project Green, which is part of an initiative that this government says they are making a priority. Big money is being set aside for it.

I would like to have your comments. Does it make sense? What would you suggest be done to ensure that this time they are held accountable? You mentioned getting this committee of deputy ministers to come to our committee on a regular basis. I am not sure. It sounds good, but we have other things we are trying to do here. If we get all these different deputy ministers in here, I am not sure I understand how it would be effective. I am not saying that it would not be a good idea.

I gather that you follow what we do quite closely, and that is encouraging to us. We would like to help you, where you say there is momentum here but you are troubled by the government's poor record when it comes to sustaining its initiatives. I would like to have more detail as to what we can do to improve that. However, in the context of Project Green, is that a good start? Are you encouraged by the government's actions?

Ms. Gélinas: We cannot determine the value of Project Green at this time. It is a new initiative, and to be honest, it is still unclear to us what Project Green is beyond the action plan to address climate change.

The way we understand it, Project Green is the overarching initiative of the government to go green. Different components will fall under Project Green. The only one that we know about, as we speak, is the climate change component that we are auditing now. That will be the topic of my report in September 2006.

Senator Angus: You spoke about Project Green, climate change and green procurement. It seems to me that there will either be green procurement or not. I had a real laugh the other morning. I was rushing to a meeting in Centre Block and saw all these black limousines there and ministers getting out. Then one little Prius drove up with a little man with some big books sitting in the front seat. I looked in and it was the Honourable Stéphane Dion. I thought, here he is, driving the talk. I thought it was quite funny and immediately phoned my wife to tell her that they are doing something.

Ms. Gélinas: You were asking me how you can help. It would be useful for all Canadians to know from Minister Dion exactly what Project Green is all about. We are looking forward to knowing more about it.

There are three chapters in our report dealing with what we call natural capital: biodiversity, oceans and parks. These might be aspects — biodiversity for sure — that will fall under Project Green. We do not yet know where that fits. These are questions on which we would like to get clarification. I was referring to that in my opening statement, in the sense that we have Project Green, this environmental competitiveness and sustainability framework, which is another tool or means by which we will get onto a sustainable path. We have the sustainable development strategies of the departments. We will have, as the department has said, a federal sustainable development strategy.

Questions to ask include: How do these strategies fit together? Are they all separate initiatives? At some point, will they be grouped in such a way that we will have an overall game plan? This is still nebulous to us. I have to say that the fog index with respect to that is pretty high; it is not clear. If you asked those questions, that would be helpful.

There is a momentum that we should use. A significant amount of money was earmarked in the last two budgets to address environmental issues. Many initiatives started not long ago. It is important to hold the departments accountable on progress made towards those commitments.

We have talked about the biodiversity strategy, the Oceans Strategy and also green procurement as three examples of where, over the last 10 years, almost nothing has happened.

Will we miss another decade? I hope not. We must ensure that someone is held accountable to report on progress.

Neil Maxwell, Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada: One way to cut through the fog of Project Green and the competitiveness framework, et cetera, that we have been stressing comes down to simplifying matters. Is there somewhere a statement of what the federal government is trying to achieve in terms of a sustainable Canada?

Where is that vision? What are they trying to achieve 20 years hence? Where are those priorities? How will we measure it? Where are the indicators that tell us about the current state of the environment and what is to be achieved? It comes down to some basics that allow you to cut through the fog of all these different terms.

If I might, as just one last point, one of the examples that we have looked at, which might be quite interesting to this committee, is what the U.K. government has done. They have come out in the last year with an overall plan for the government, and it does all those things. It explains clearly, anyone can read it; you can see exactly what that government is trying to do in terms of sustainable development. It has 68 different indicators it tracks to understand the state of biodiversity, climate change and all those other important matters. It clearly shows what the priorities of the government are.

Without endorsing any particular one, there are examples like that on the international front that point the way to what the Canadian federal government could do.

Mr. Affleck: My comment is more on the biodiversity file because that is an illustrative example. As the commissioner said, this is the third time we have looked at it. We audited it in 1998, 2000 and then this year. Biodiversity is such a fundamental issue, especially to a country like Canada that is so rich in it. We signed on to the international convention in 1992, put a strategy in place in 1996, and there is still no implementation plan. We still do not have the capacity to understand what is going on in Canada, and we still have no consolidated report.

I am looking at a press release. The commissioner tabled her report on September 29, and on October 5 there was a press release from the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council. This is federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for forests, wildlife, endangered species, fisheries and aquaculture. Mr. Dion said we need to accelerate action to conserve Canada's biodiversity and recover species at risk. They announced a plan to develop a biodiversity outcomes framework by the fall of 2006.

In some ways it is a little discouraging. The response is yet another plan, and we have seen this for many years. Maybe the committee could hold the minister to account and have him come to speak to this framework, how is it going and, once it is developed, how it will be implemented.

Senator Angus: The minister has been here already, and he is coming again next week. I am not in the same party, but I am trying to put myself in his shoes. Surely he is acting in good faith. I think we presume good faith. They are addressing it. First, the government generally has stated in its budget and so on that this is a priority and that they want to be seen to be emphasizing this important file, this area. Furthermore, they are cognizant of the OECD reports that show us falling further and further behind. I am sure they are spurred by the news just this week that even though the Americans have not signed on to Kyoto, they are miles ahead of us on emissions. That is pretty illustrative.

You are the auditors of the situation. I cannot believe they would be spinning their wheels like that. Are they badly briefed? I try to put myself in his place. I get named to the cabinet, I am the Minister of the Environment and I come forward with this big Project Green, this new biodiversity initiative, and you folks say it is all puffery. How does he get into a trap like that?

Ms. Gélinas: Senator Christensen was referring previously to the complexity of some environmental issues. I will give you the example of the Oceans Strategy. There are 19 or 20 departments involved in the implementation of that strategy. Therefore you can appreciate that it goes beyond the Department of Environment and the Minister of the Environment. If we all care about the environment, we should find ways to help the minister achieve his own objective, right?

One thing you may want to consider, you will probably recall that last year the Prime Minister established a ministerial Ad Hoc Committee on Environment and Sustainable Economy, chaired by Minister Emerson, Minister of Industry. It is interesting to see that it is not chaired by the Minister of the Environment, as you recommended in your last report. It will also be interesting to see what exactly are the mandate and the role of this ministerial ad hoc committee, what are the priorities, the agenda, and how that fits with the deputy ministers' committee, because we are assuming that they should work hand in hand.

Senator Angus: Are you telling us that committee has never actually met and has not done anything?

Ms. Gélinas: We said that about the previous DM committee. Now there is a new one. We have not looked at what this new committee has done, but as I was saying earlier, having the chair of that committee, who is the Deputy Minister of Environment Canada, before you will give you a pretty good indication of its game plan. Also, you may want to do the same thing with the ministerial committee to see who are the ministers involved in trying to achieve some of our environmental and sustainable development goals.

Senator Angus: You have emphasized to us, not only tonight but last year, and in a lot of information I notice coming from your office, that one of your main criticisms is that the tools are there, they are available. We have state- of-the-art techniques and means of dealing with these critical issues but they are not being utilized. I would like to turn it around and ask you, Ms. Gélinas, do you have sufficient tools to carry out this function?

I see us as something of a partnership here, the committee and the other parliamentarians in the other place, to try to hold the government accountable and make the environment a better place for us, our children and grandchildren. Do you have enough clout and the necessary tools?

Ms. Gélinas: I will say that if we can continue to strengthen our relationship, you and I have the right tools to make sure that ministers and bureaucrats will be held accountable, certainly.


Senator Angus: We already have them. Quite simply, the issue is demanding the tools with which to take action.


Ms. Gélinas: Exactly.

The Chairman: I gathered, listening carefully to your opening remarks and the subsequent conversations, that if we had to pick a place to start — and maybe it is too impractical a place to start, maybe we have to bite off something smaller — you cannot do anything until there is an inventory, until there are measurements, and that listing the biodiversity and, in the process, identifying the problems that derive from it is the first thing that has to be done, because if we do not we will not know what to do.

Is that fair, and is it possible to actually do that?

Ms. Gélinas: It is exactly what we have said. How can you do something and prioritize your actions when you do not have the basic information? We have said, not only this year but in previous years, that there is a kind of degradation of the scientific monitoring exercise to get the information about biodiversity. It can be the ocean. We have many other examples. That is the first step.

You may want to address that question and ask the minister what is being done as we speak, government-wide, in the area of the environment to strengthen our capacity to gather this information that is desperately needed.

The Chairman: Across the board, we have commented specifically on the necessity of re-inflating government funding of academic research of all kinds, into aquifers and groundwater, for example. Do I take it we need to do that kind of re-inflated research across the entire spectrum of biodiversity? Is it lacking equally everywhere?

Ms. Gélinas: I cannot give you the overall portrait. In the area of biodiversity — and I can be corrected — it seems that there is some information here and there; however, we do not gather this information. Maybe we will have a good portrait or profile of our biodiversity, but even that type of exercise has not taken place. We should start by taking stock of what we have, see what more is needed, and then move ahead and get that information. I would say taking stock is probably step number one in the area of biodiversity.

The Chairman: Is there a clearing house or a repository where that should, can and must go?

Ms. Gélinas: There were proposals made way back when many other initiatives were taken. Senator Angus referred to last year's key message being that the tools were there. This year we are saying that you may do things as a government, but you cannot sustain your initiatives.

In the case of biodiversity, for example, if the government had done what it said it would, we would have that repository where this information can be made available because those commitments were made many years ago. That was part of the strategy itself, to gather the information and know what is going on.

If I am right, only 2 per cent of the information is related to biodiversity.

Mr. Affleck: Three per cent.

Ms. Gélinas: We still have to cover the 97 per cent that is missing.

Senator Grafstein: Firstly, I want to pursue your response to Senator Spivak when you stated that all you do is lay out concerns and it is up to parliamentarians and the public to determine priorities. Is that correct based on your terms of reference?

There was a huge debate when the Auditor General's office was first established under Mr. Trudeau — and Senator Kenny will recall this — between the Auditor General and the government of the day about the proper role of the Auditor General. There was policy on the one hand, which Mr. Trudeau felt clearly was no business of the auditor's, but there was an issue about value for money.

As you know, the precursor to that was the work done in the United States on cost/benefit analysis prior to the Vietnam War. This all started with Secretary of Defense McNamara and the whiz kids brought in from Ford to bring statistical analysis to bear to demonstrate that the money spent on defence was cost effective and was the biggest bang for the buck. How did a soldier become more effective as a killer on a cost/benefit analysis?

That stream of thought was picked up in the EU, and the EU has done some important work. One of the pieces of important work they did in this area was on competitive analysis. One of the competitive analysis outputs was a very simple thing, measuring whether it was safe to swim at a beach or not.

The rationale was that in Europe there was a competition between tourism and beaches, so that if you were at a beach on the Riviera, as opposed to a beach on the east coast of Bordeaux versus Italy or Spain, they developed the blue flag system. It worked very effectively. Today you can punch a button and find out where the blue flag beaches are throughout Europe to determine where you should go.

This is not as complicated as we think if we look at some human outputs as opposed to getting involved in bureaucratic rationale. Why is that not an easy thing to do without it getting complicated? In other words, you just measure swimming beaches, as an example.

To give you a more concrete example, I refer to the Great Lakes. Forgive me, Mr. Chairman, but it takes a bit of explanation.

About 10 years ago the provinces and the states decided to start dealing with the Great Lakes problem, the largest resource of freshwater in the world. Pollution was causing deterioration of the freshwater component. Therefore, they established a contractual agreement between the various provinces and the states. It is under review as we speak.

The essence of the agreement was not complicated. At that time, there were 36 or 37 hot spots on the Great Lakes. As I recall, 22 of those were on the American side and 16 were on the Canadian side. The objective was that over a 10- year period, those hot spots would be cleaned up. You could audit them, whether they were in Hamilton or Sault Ste. Marie or Detroit.

Since that time, there have been exactly one and a half of those hot spots cleaned up on the Canadian side — that is the good news — out of our 16. On the American side, they have not completed one yet.

Is there not a simple way of cutting through all this and pinpointing issues, as opposed to giving a microanalysis and saying here is a healthy output, work on that?

Ms. Gélinas: I will start with your first point. I will let Mr. Maxwell or Mr. Affleck address the value-for-money audits that we are pursuing.

With respect to those hot spots you are referring to, if I am not mistaken, we audited those in great detail when we did the Great Lakes report in 2001. We can highlight that information for you, if you still have an interest in this area. We will be doing a follow-up on the Great Lakes report, so we will be able to report back on progress made there.

We are part of the Auditor General's office, and we do not comment on policy. That said we are trying to be proactive by providing parliamentarians with more information than just the findings of an audit.

One way in which we can provide more information is by doing benchmarking exercises. We are doing that in the course of the audit on climate change. You will be able to compare data based on the factual information that we will be giving you. We have been asked many times to provide that type of information.

The other thing we do more frequently now is identify what we have called good practices from elsewhere. We will be doing that with climate change, and you can use that as a benchmark to see if policy decisions were taken by the government based on the information we have given you. Within our mandate, this is a way we can try to go beyond just auditing what the federal government has or has not done.

You stated that our mandate was to lay out concerns. I hope we can go further than that. It is true that that is part of our mandate. Through our recommendations we try to be proactive in having good discussions with departments and seeing where the barriers and constraints that they are facing are. We try to help by writing recommendations to give these departments ammunition so they can move forward. As we have always said, bureaucrats are willing to move the agenda.

We see good people there trying to move an issue forward but it does not go as fast as they would like. We are trying to do that. I have to say that so far, our own record in implementing our recommendations has not been that bad. In fact, it has been pretty good.

The key to all this is to follow up on a regular basis. I return to my opening statement about how we can work together and strengthen our relations in such a way that we can see progress happening, namely, by doing some regular follow-up, both on your side and on our side, and by working together to make sure that implementation is taking place.

Senator Grafstein: Madam Commissioner, forgive me. I am not a member of this committee. However, I am familiar with the American style of cost/benefit analysis and its European application. If your primary mandate is value for money, and if I take your evidence in its entirety today, listening to it carefully, what you really said is that the taxpayer has not received value for money because of the myriad of programs that have been established. The objectives are good but the programs have not succeeded. To help us, tell us which programs have not delivered value for money and can be scrapped. You have stated in your evidence that there is a program within a program in the green project. It is quite confusing for us, and we are all knowledgeable legislators. We have heard this before, but if I were a taxpayer I could not figure out where to begin or end.

Our job is to somehow focus and say that if an existing program does not work and there has been no value for money, then let us scrap it as opposed to doing an add-on. Surely you can help us with that and be more precise, so that when the committee makes its recommendations, it will have the benefit of your recommendations. I am trying to think through, Mr. Chairman, what this committee might recommend. I have a bias about clean water and I have a way of coming at that, but this is more complicated. I think we can make it less complicated if you could tell us: This program, this program and this program produce no value for money. The chairman can say to his colleagues, ``We will recommend to the government that you scrap those programs.''

Ms. Gélinas: We are aiming in that direction — and I will let Mr. Maxwell make a few comments on that — with the climate change report, in the sense that we are looking at different programs. We will provide you with some information.

One of the problems that we often face is that it is difficult, when you get into the departments, to know exactly how much money has been spent on this specifically. It is spread out and it is not always clear where the money goes to address a specific objective or commitment. That is one of the tricky parts. I guess as a good, experienced auditor you must have seen other constraints to getting value-for-money results in the work that we are doing. It is amazing that we were having a discussion on that about five hours ago.

Mr. Maxwell: I am not sure I have a lot more to add, other than, as the commissioner said, we try as much as we can to talk in our reports about what the results are for Canadians. In many examples in this report, we talk about the fact there are only 2 marine protected areas when 13 have been identified, et cetera. We are always conscious of doing that.

As a practical matter, what an auditor can do is limited by the type of measurement that the government has put in place. When Parliament gave us our act, it was very much conscious of the idea that it is the government in the first instance that must know how effective efforts are. It is a healthier situation if the government makes decisions based on knowing how effective programs are rather than leaving that solely to the auditor.

I would also add that when we complete one of these audits and show the problems that we do — and as the commissioner said, we make recommendations to try to capture our ideas about how things could be improved — there are always many different decisions that could be taken that are really policy decisions. You can take the results of what we have found in any of these areas, such as oceans management, and you can reach the conclusion that a program should be scrapped. You could reach another conclusion, namely, that that program is important because its intent is to deliver important results for Canadians and it should be fixed or improved.

Those are what we would think of as policy decisions, and that, as Parliament has said, is not what we want our auditor to do. We have parliamentarians who, in the final instance, make those decisions.

Senator Grafstein: Trying to be specific here, I have been interested in the Aboriginal community. I look at your items here numbered 32 to 36. Let me give you my take on this information.

You have said that between 1995 and 2003, $2 billion has been spent on Aboriginal communities to operate — and this is clear-cut — drinking water and sewage systems. You then say another $1.8 billion will be spent from 2003 to 2008. I can divide $1.8 billion by five and we have $2.6 billion spent on the Aboriginal communities for infrastructure for clean drinking water. Yet we then have a general comment that the water systems still pose a threat.

What are we to make of this? This does not help. As I recall, there were 176 reservations. Based on the study I did about three years ago, one third of them had bad drinking water.

Help us with this. Within that narrow category, where is it working and where is it not? Has your audit looked at the various Aboriginal communities one at a time and said ``It is working here but not working here?'' You make the general comment that overall regulatory responsibilities are lacking, but I know, of several reservations I have attended, some are horrible and one or two are quite good because the Aboriginal community is starting to train their local officials. This type of recommendation does not help me in trying to urge the government to focus in on this more sharply. I am not providing any insight for the government by saying ``Here is a problem that you have solved and here is one that you have not.'' I know this, however: DART is providing mobile water equipment to Pakistan, as they did after Katrina, but we cannot deliver mobile water equipment to the Aboriginal communities. I find that a little ironic, if it is a pressing, urgent problem.

Senator Angus: Where is Senator Adams when we need him?

Senator Grafstein: I have talked to Senator Adams about this.

Ms. Gélinas: All the money that has been put toward addressing the drinking water and sewage problem for First Nations was not only to operate but also to build the infrastructure. We have said that the money that was devoted to the building of the infrastructure was used properly for that purpose and that access to water has increased over time in First Nations communities. Having said that, that has not solved the quality issue, which is still there.

What we are saying —

Senator Milne: Unless strong action is taken — what strong action?

Ms. Gélinas: Exactly. Money will not address the entire problem. It is part of the solution, but more is needed.

A funding agreement between First Nations communities and the government will never replace regulation. We have said that First Nations communities are the only ones in this country that do not have drinking water regulations. We are saying, first, there might be a need to explore the requirement for regulation. That is our first recommendation. The answer we got from the government was that they will explore that with First Nations.

Senator Grafstein: On that, the guideline has been established by the Department of Health. It is not as if a guideline is absent. My concern is that it is a voluntary guideline. Why is the government — or anyone — able to say there is is no guideline if there is?

Ms. Gélinas: There is a guideline and the government will not say there are none. However, it should be applied by First Nations, the way that Health Canada sees it. The controls are not there, or, if they are, Health Canada does not know. At the end of the day, nobody knows what has been done in First Nations communities to address the drinking water problems.

If we were to have regulations, rules and responsibilities, it would be stated clearly. That is part of the problem. This is one area where we are moving forward, and we say perhaps it is time for you to look at the need for regulations in this specific area.

The other problem we have identified is that even though there is good infrastructure, in many cases, there is not the capacity in the communities to operate and maintain that infrastructure. Therefore, there is a need to look at solutions. It is unrealistic to believe that a few years from now, all communities will have the infrastructure along with the right people to operate that. What will the government do about this particular problem?

These are the two key issues that we have highlighted in the course of our audit. We are hoping, as the departments of Indian Affairs and Health Canada have said, that they will act on those particular problems.

I myself have visited two totally different communities, one in the south near an urban area and another in a remote fly-in area in Manitoba. There are real problems and it is urgent that we act on them, especially in remote communities.

The Chairman: I have to point out to members that, in the interests of time, we would be well advised to read carefully, if we are interested in this, the section, which is quite substantial, in the commissioner's report released on the 29th, a copy of which is in your offices. It is slipcase bound, and this is the fifth volume of the report. The information is there in much greater detail than we have time for now. We can revisit that issue.

Senator Kenny: I have a few brief questions, chair. When you talk about best practices, does that include the opportunity to comment on government procedures?

Ms. Gélinas: I do not know if I understand your question.

Senator Kenny: My mind turns, for example, to the design of cabinet documents. Have you ever examined how a cabinet document is structured?

Ms. Gélinas: That is a good question. Have we ever looked at that?

Mr. Maxwell: Not in a critical sense, not in the sense of saying that something is wrong with it. We have looked at some issues. The committee will remember that last year we talked about the state of strategic environmental assessment. We have looked at some specific issues, but not to say something is structurally wrong.

Senator Kenny: I am talking here about a blank form that gives instructions to a department on how to compose a document going to cabinet. Is that within your purview when you are considering best practices?

Ms. Gélinas: I do not know. I will have to get back to you on that specific question. I know there is a directive for SEA. We have looked at how that directive was taken into account as departments have to do environmental assessments for further decisions. We sometimes look at templates and frameworks, but cabinet documents are a different ball game.

Senator Kenny: Not a blank one. The issue is really the design of a cabinet document. The question that I am working up to is whether there is section XX in a cabinet document that requires the proponent of an idea to comment on environmental impacts that the proposal will have. Do you know the answer to that question?

Mr. Maxwell: The answer is this thing called the strategic environmental assessment. Cabinet first directed back in 1990 that when any decision came to cabinet, someone had to look at it through the environmental lens. We were critical of the progress in that area last year. I am speaking of the 2004 report.

It is interesting that you would ask that, because one thing that we do in terms of our ongoing monitoring is try to get a sense of how departments have progressed on different issues we have raised in the past. That has been an ongoing concern. I recall this committee talked about that in the June report. It is a key tool. Senator Angus was talking about tools before. That is as important a tool as any in terms of this situation.

Senator Kenny: The other tool is making the Department of the Environment a central agency. We saw a government come close to that when Mr. Bouchard was Minister of the Environment, but he quickly developed other interests and moved on. They announced that his department had become a central agency and that he had to sign off on every government proposal, indicating that it met the department's standards. That struck me as being more valuable than gold.

Senator Grafstein: It shows accountability.

Senator Kenny: Yes, and also the capacity to stop a project from going forward until it meets the standards of the department. That is why I was asking about best practices, whether you have looked at the OECD and whether there are governments that have similar proposals, and practices to enforce them. You will never see much money put into the environment, and I am talking about serious money. It seems to me that if you have the authority to look at best practices, it would be good to use that authority to examine how the central agency functions, and by that I mean the Privy Council Office. Secondly, you could look at the question of the machinery of government and whether or not it is worth reconsidering the idea of instituting another central agency.

Senator Grafstein: Just as an add-on, that is exactly what the McNamara revolution did in the U. S. Department of Defense. An assistant secretary had to sign off on all projects to ensure they met the objective, which was a gun that could shoot hard, fast and cost-effectively. They had to sign off, so there was accountability right at the secretary or assistant secretary level. It worked quite effectively. They did not win the Vietnamese war, but the army became really good.

The Chairman: That process is in place, but it is not quite working yet. Is that right?

Mr. Arseneault: PCO provides guidelines to departments on how they want the template filled in. They tell departments ``Do not forget to do your strategic environmental assessment.'' They are supposed to challenge departments. They have a challenge function. We looked at it last year and could not see the challenge function or good compliance with this directive from cabinet. Departments are directed to do strategic environmental assessments on all memoranda that go to cabinet. It is not happening, or it is happening in some places but not in others. That is what we found last year.

Senator Kenny: Then you have somebody who says, ``I will not sign this document. My signature is necessary in order for it to go ahead, and absent that box being filled in satisfactorily, I will not sign it.'' It is not very different from when a department wants to buy something. The department has to define its requirements and go to Public Works, and Public Works has to sign off on it, just like the proponent department. Then Treasury Board has to sign off on it, indicating that it is in the financial envelope. We all understand that, and this is simply extending the principle.

Senator Spivak: Wait a minute. That has not worked.

Senator Kenny: It has not happened. Let it happen first, Senator Spivak, before you judge whether it works.

Mr. Arseneault: I could add that we have been talking to other countries about this particular aspect. We are the first audit office in the world to do an audit on strategic environmental assessment. Other countries are learning from us in terms of how we do these things and what comes out of it.

When we were doing this audit, it was amazing to see the changes happening in departments. Suddenly, they were starting to do things they said they would do. We need to do a follow-up, obviously.

Senator Kenny: That is why I asked you about the OECD and whether there were other countries with best practices.

Mr. Maxwell: We have looked at that, although not extensively, and I am familiar with what is happening in a number of countries. There are a number of models. There are some like ours, where the Minister of Environment does not have to sign off to say he or she is satisfied that a good strategic environmental assessment has been done. There are other countries where that function has been put into the equivalent of our Prime Minister's Office, others where it is in the equivalent of our PCO, and others where it is in Finance.

One thing the committee may be interested in is that Minister Dion announced several weeks ago at a press conference that he held after the tabling of our report that he had received a new mandate from the Prime Minister to take a lead responsibility on sustainable development. That may be something you will want to pursue with him.

Senator Grafstein: The OECD does collect statistics dealing with environmental assessment. Before they will approve a project, the World Bank requires a cost-for-dollar analysis based on certain parameters; so there are existing practices that ensure the money is disbursed and there is value for money.

I just wonder why we are trying to reinvent the wheel here when there are existing modalities of calculation in place that can be used. The UN just did an interesting study on UN development in the Middle East that went through all the categories — education, literacy, effectiveness, and so on — and they did a follow-up a year later. It is a good study.

There are studies available, chairman, and we have not deployed them properly. Others have been struggling with the same issues.

Mr. Arseneault: What you are talking about, environmental assessment of projects, is a different beast from environmental assessment of policies, programs and plans. That is what we are talking about — the strategic environmental assessment.

The environmental assessment of projects is an issue that we have audited in the past and want to audit again in the future. One important aspect in the area of environmental assessment is mitigation. When a project is approved by the government, the project proponent promises to do a number of things to protect the environment. Who is monitoring this work, these mitigation measures? There is a real gap in that area. That is something we would probably want to look at in the future.

The Chairman: All of which we will explore in greater detail and with more boots on the ground, as it were, to find out how to make this work better than it does. It sounds like the government has taken some steps in the right direction, but measures are lacking in teeth and strict application. We may be able, as you have suggested, commissioner, to assist in moving that in the right direction.

I must now thank you, guests. We will have more questions. I hope that you will permit us to write to you with some questions and that you will respond to suggestions that we may have; and that you will not hesitate to make suggestions to us based on the questions you have heard and the initiatives you have proposed today, for which we are all very grateful.

Colleagues, we will reconvene in exactly 20 minutes and I will make it go fast after that, I promise.

The committee continued in camera.