Montreal Gazette: OTTAWA — Environment Canada
Environment Canada has failed to implement a strategic plan to improve its internal scientific research in areas ranging from managing air and water pollution to toxic chemicals, a new report has found.The report was released Tuesday by Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan.He found that years after it was developed, Environment Canada has still not implemented its long-term science plan.
Environment Canada says it is planning to review the science plan next year.Vaughan’s report, however, says the plan remains vital.”The current round of budget reductions facing the federal government underscores how critical it is for Environment Canada to have a strategy that specifies exactly which scientific research and environmental monitoring activities are indispensable and irreplaceable for Canada’s public interest; which activities are duplicated, if any; and which can be performed by others,” Vaughan wrote.
Vaughan does not specifically identify the reasons for the delay, but there is an indication that turmoil within Environment Canada may be partly to blame. And given coming budget cuts, he warned, the need for action is essential.”While individual programs have systems to set their own priorities, a department-wide strategic plan for science is more urgent than ever during this period of fiscal restraint.”
Environment Canada spends $726 million of its $1.1-billion budget on science and related activities, an increase of 10 per cent since 2007. Of its 7,000 employees, more than half are engaged in science and research.
In an effort to make science a key aspect of the department’s operations, a science plan was developed in 2007.
The plan’s objectives were to help Environment Canada’s abilities to predict and monitor changes to the environment; develop strategies and tools to predict the impact of those changes on human and environmental health and security; and find ways to mitigate those risks and even identify opportunities.
Vaughan’s report, released Tuesday, said the plan would be important for activities like developing the oil sands, where there is the threat of environmental damage and a need to understand the long-term implications and possible solutions.
But so far, little has been done to put the plan in place.
“The department recognizes that it has not implemented the plan with sufficient rigour, and specific commitments in the plan have yet to be carried out or documented,” reads the report.
Vaughan noted the department had been through a period of change.
“The department has informed us that, over the last five years, its governance and planning processes have been in a state of constant change,” reads the report. “The department’s operational planning has changed in response to changes in its senior management and governance regime.”
Environment Canada says it is planning to review the science plan next year.
Vaughan’s report, however, said the plan remains vital.
The auditor general’s report also notes the department has stopped producing a number of reports and newsletters related to the environment.
One example was a report on the impact of pharmaceuticals on freshwater, which has not been published since 2007.
In addition, Environment Canada has stopped tracking the number of peer-reviewed publications it has produced since 2007, leading to questions about the impact and influence of the department’s research work.
“Given the significance of the decisions Environment Canada makes and the important role that science plays,” Vaughan’s report reads, “assessing communications to decision makers more systematically and regularly would be beneficial.”
The report also found that three boards tasked with reviewing and approving research programs have become inactive. The report recommends turning to independent external peer reviews for assistance, something that hasn’t been done in recent years.