Sierra Club of Canada - Rio Report Card

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Federal Government of Canada


1. Commitment to increase Overseas Development Assistance to 0.7 per cent of GNP

1993 Grade: F

1994 Grade: B

1995 Grade: F

1996 Grade: F

At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,, the Government of Canada re-committed itself to the target of ensuring that development assistance was at least 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Product (GNP). An essential element of every agreement reached at Rio was the bargain struck between wealthy industrialized countries and the developing world. Increased funding was committed to alleviate human suffering, while avoiding those technologies which have created global environmental threats. Despite a Red Book promise to meet the 0.7 per cent target, in every year since taking office the Chretien government has moved further and further from it, while cutting other aspects of our multilateral commitments as well. As of last year's report card, our ODA had been reduced from a Rio level of 0.45 per cent of GNP to 0.34 per cent. In the 1996 budget, a further $150 million was slashed from aid. The budget confirmed, somewhat lamely, "the Government is committed to making progress towards the ODA target of 0.7 per cent of GNP when Canada's fiscal situation allows." Canada has also been reducing our support to important international work, such as Canada's contribution to the United Nations Environment Programme for the Montreal Protocol on the Ozone Layer and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

In last year's report card, we highlighted the opportunity that Prime Minister Chretien would have at the Halifax G-7 Summit to improve this grade by taking on reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, and the numerous ways these institutions are damaging to the environment and the human condition. Unfortunately, Canada did not show strong leadership on these issues at the Halifax Summit. In hopes of improving this failing grade, we urge the Prime Minister to make the G-7 Summit in Lyon (June 27-29, 1996) a precedent setting session for the reduction of multilaterally held debt around the world.

2. Climate Change


In 1992, Canada's Prime Minister signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) committing this country to achieving the Convention's ultimate objective: "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

In 1996, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Second Scientific Assessment Report (SAR). The SAR took more than 2.5 years to complete, and involved more than 2,000 scientists from over 130 countries. The key conclusions clearly demonstrate that given current projections of emissions and warming, dangerous interference with the climate system will not be prevented, ecosystems will not adapt naturally, food production will be threatened, and economic development is more at risk from the impacts of climate change than it is from the impact of doing something about it.

Climate change is already under way in Canada. The Mackenzie Basin (Northwestern Canada) has warmed an average 1.7oC over the last 100 years1 (as compared to 0.30C to 0.6oC globally) and scientists involved in a six-year Mackenzie Basin Impact Study2 report historically low water levels in Great Slave Lake, localized melting of permafrost, and increased erosion and landslides as a result of historically high forest fires in the Region (more than 7 million hectares went up in smoke in 1995; almost 3 million of that was in the Northwest Territories3). Fires have been so severe in recent years - the five worst forest fire seasons on record have all occured since 1980 - that the Canadian forest currently is a source of carbon to the atmosphere4. Arctic sea-ice is down 5 per cent5. Unusually warm temperatures and changing ocean currents off the west coast as a result of an El Nino event which lasted from 1990 to early 1995 (unprecedented in 120 years)6 is credited with a mackeral invasion which contributed to the collapse of an already stressed salmon fishery, according to Fisheries and Oceans. A rapid cooling of the Labrador Current also may have been a factor in the collapse of the overharvested cod stocks.7 These are the signposts of climate change.

The environmental changes in the Mackenzie Basin are statistically significant at the 95 per cent confidence level. As a result, the changes in the Mackenzie Basin (and warming in Siberia) contributed to the conclusion of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest Scientific Assessment Report (SAR) which said:

"...the balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate."

In fact, there is now a discernable human influence on Canadian climate.

The impacts of climate change, which are largely based on assessing what would happen if carbon dioxide concentrations were allowed to double in the atmosphere, clearly are dangerous - for Canada and the world - and must be avoided. According to Environment Canada's General Circulation Model, temperature in Canada could increase an average of 4 - 8oC in the South and up to 8 - 12oC in winter in the North if greenhouse gas emissions double in the atmosphere. This compares to global projections of between 1 - 3.5oC. Increases of up to 40 - 50 per cent in the number of forest fires are projected for the boreal forest, with significant declines in living trees expected in Canada's largest ecosystem. Scientists looking at the impact of a warmer world on extreme weather events project "several hundred extra deaths will occur in Toronto and Montreal even if the population acclimatizes"8 (from heat waves). Runoff to the Great Lakes is likely to be reduced between 8 per cent and 25 per cent while municipal water demand may increase; Great Lakes levels decline and remain at or below historic lows (up to 50 cm Lake Superior; 80-190 cm Lake Erie; 100-250 cm Lake Michigan-Huron; between 150 - 160 cm in Lake Ontario).9

As Gordon McBean, Environment Canada's senior scientist, told a non-governmental advisory committee (established to advise the federal government on Canadian negotiating positions), the "risk of danger is real and significant."

The rate of change, and its impacts, are the critical factors which must drive the policy response, not assumptions around some presumed equilibrium next century. In fact, emission projections clearly indicate that a doubling of atmospheric concentrations could be the minimum to expect. As a result, the SAR is a conservative estimate of the possible implications of climate change.

Climate change is not an emissions challenge for Canada, it is an impacts disaster. Canada must stabilize and then reduce its emissions by at least 20 per cent not just because it is a Liberal Red Book10 commitment or because it is cost effective to do so, but to give Canada the platform it needs to argue for global reductions of at least 60 per cent by 2030. It is only steep and immediate reductions that will protect Canada's boreal forest from almost complete obliteration, the Great Lakes system from drastic reductions in lake levels and water quality, the Arctic from massive reductions in sea ice (particularly in summer) and permafrost and Canadians from dying from the increased intensity and frequency of heat waves, and exposure to new diseases. Avoiding these impacts is what must define Canada's interest.

Given the latest science and the seriousness of the impacts for Canada, action by all governments continues to be woefully inadequate and is reflected in this year's Rio Report Card grades. Last year's Report Card gave many governments the benefit of the doubt as provincial and federal action plans still had not been released. Action Plans were filed in November 1995. All plans are almost exclusively voluntary, include few real actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and show no commitment to doing anything about climate change.

Given that scientific background, here is the federal Government's grade:


1993 Grade: D

1994 Grade: C+

1995 Grade: D+

1996 Grade: D-

Greenhouse gas emissions - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons (tonnes of CO2 equivalent)11

Canada Greenhouse gases Carbon dioxide only Carbon Dioxide Only
1990 578,335 462,643
1994 615,519 483,557
Increase: 6.04% 4.33%

The federal Government's grade falls this year because it has failed to develop an action plan that stabilizes greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000, and it has failed to act on its Red Book commitment to move toward 20 per cent reductions. The federal Government also has failed to defend Canada's environmental interests both at home and abroad.

Internationally, Canada is certainly not a leader in Convention negotiations toward an emissions reduction protocol and is alligning itself with countries blocking progress like Australia. At a recent negotiating session Canada called for only "long-term commitments, with short-term milestones," as a response to the science which its says it wholly supports.

The new Environment Minister, Sergio Marchi, has been fixated on the stabilization target and the fact that Canada hasn't a hope in hell of meeting it by the year 2000. The Prime Minister has failed to show any leadership on any environment issue and must be held accountable. Sergio Marchi, however, needs to keep his eye on the ball: water, human health, heat waves and disease and the North - that is his constituency and concern for these impacts will build the constituency needed for real emissions reductions. The Minister deserves full credit for getting climate change on the agenda for a recent meeting of environment ministers and for ensuring they endorsed the latest scientific assessment and the need for more action in the communique.

Due to cutbacks, Environment Canada's ability to educate Canadians about the climate change issue, its impacts and causes has been seriously impaired. Public service announcements have been prepared on transportation and its impacts on air, but are not being seen by many Canadians. The ability to complete scientific assessments of the potential impact of climate change on Canada have been severely affected.

Environment Canada does deserve credit for financially supporting the 20 Per Cent Club; a network of Canadian cities that is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is a need, however, to ensure that this money is being effectively directed toward emissions reductions not staff costs and administration.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) continues to contribute more to the problem than to its solutions. No action has been taken to increase vehicle fuel efficiency, or to move toward full-cost energy pricing. The Voluntary Challenge and Registry - Anne McLellan's responsibility - will not decrease greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, yet this is the key element of the National Action Program on Climate Change. In fact, the program is so weak on commitments and even reporting that most companies have submitted nothing more than letters of intent. Those companies that have submitted plans primarily are reporting on activities that happened as a normal part of business that just happen to improve efficiency.12 These gains are welcome, but are already included in baseline projections. That is, deducting these reductions is double counting. Provincial and federal governments have also submitted plans to the Voluntary Challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their own operations. For many, this is the extent of their commitment to climate change. Provincial and federal energy and environment ministers know the program won't meet current commitments and yet are doing little to develop options for further action.

Natural Resources Canada also remains the greatest single block to consideration of further commitments for the post-2000 period and is credited for leading the obstructionist charge at cabinet.

The department deserves recognition for changes to the Panel on Energy Research and Development (PERD). The $70 million R&D program has been revamped with a greater focus on energy efficiency and renewables, with more than half the resources allocated to energy efficiency, renewables, advanced transportation, and energy and climate change. Small programs have been launched to support renewables: PV for the North, Green Procurement and the PERD changes. This Renewable Energy Strategy indicates good direction and is aimed at creating a viable renewables industry in Canada. Without targets -- like 15 per cent of primary energy supply by 2010 -- however, the program is unlikely to achieve real results (current renewable energy supply is 6 per cent).

The department, despite flowery words to the contrary, still supports megaproject oil and gas projects like the Oil Sands that offer far less job creation opportunities than would investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Oil Sands Task Force boasts the potential to create 44,000 jobs by 2020. Yet more than 1.5 million jobs could have been created by 2010 if the federal and provincial governments instead had encouraged industry investment in the Climate Action Network's Rational Energy Program, according to analysis just completed by Informetrica13. Expansion of the Oil Sands also represents the most greenhouse gas intensive means of producing oil and gas in Canada, while the Rational Energy Program would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions in Canada by at least 7 per cent; sulphur dioxide emissions by 24 per cent; volatile organic compounds by 13 per cent and nitrogen oxides by 16 per cent by 2010. The production of crude oil from oil sands produces more than 10 times as much carbon dioxide per comparable unit of energy as production from conventional light sources.

The forest sector currently is assuming it can cope with a 20C increase in global temperature. This clearly shows that the Natural Resources Minister has also failed in her duty to alert forest dependent communities and the forest industry of the implications of a 40-50 per cent increase in forest fires as a result of temperature increases that will far exceed global averages. While global projections are in the range of 1 - 3.50C with 20C as the best guess by 2100; temperature increases in Canada will average between 40C - 80C in the South and between 8 - 120C in the north in winter.

Due to budget cuts, NRCan is shutting down its group working on Building Codes. This group has worked with the provinces to encourage them to adopt the new Energy Code for Buildings and Houses which would lead to slightly higher efficiency standards for residential and commercial buildings. At this point, only B.C. is moving forward.

Finance Minister Paul Martin, walked both sides of the fence in the 1996 budget: offering tax help to the renewable energy sector and the fossil fuel energy sector. The Minister announced that "Canadian Exploration Expenses (100 per cent writeoffs) and Canadian Exploration Expense (30 per cent writeoffs) and interest expenses will continue to receive preferential treatment relative to other resource-related expenses." Non-taxable resource companies also could flow through up to $2 million of these Canadian Exploration Expenses to investors. Martin restricted these flow-through benefits to $1 million per year and restricted the use of these flow-through share agreements to companies with less than $15 million in taxable capital in Canada.

The Minister of Finance also responded to the Oil Sands Task Force request for tax changes, but not to the full extent sought (see Alberta section for more details). While debate continues as to how much the federal treasury may lose in direct tax revenues (indirect revenues through incomes taxes and induced economic activity are expected to compensate), the Minister himself acknowledged at least $5 million per year to 1998.

On the other side of the fence, the Department of Finance did open the door - potentially - for new investment in the renewable energy sector with the introduction of a Canadian Renewable and Conservation Expense (CRCE) in the 1996 budget. CRCE would allow expenses related to project development to be deducted and flowed through to investors. Negotiations are now under way to determine eligible expenses (if the current list is approved, 15 per cent of capital costs could be deductible.). The Minister also relaxed the Specified Energy Property Rule which formerly restricted access to the flow-through tax benefits of accelerated capital cost writeoffs to companies in the energy business. This meant that renewable energy projects had to rely on fossil fuel companies or utilities to invest in the project. Now mining and manufacturing companies also can invest and gain access to the flow-through tax benefits that the small renewable company cannot claim for itself.

New energy projections due this summer will show that Canada is likely to exceed its stabilization target by even more than the 13 per cent currently projected.

The federal Government needs strong action on the following points if it is to improve its grade next year:

  1. Minister Marchi must focus on the impacts of climate change on Canada at the Second Conference of the Parties meeting scheduled for July 16-18 in Geneva. Governments must assess the latest scientific assessment and make a political assessment as to whether impacts constitute dangerous interference with the climate system. The Minister must answer a resounding YES.
  2. Energy and environment ministers meet in November 1996 to assess progress and decide next steps on climate change. The federal government must ensure that all governments bring forward additional actions that must be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


3. Commitment to protect Biodiversity:

1993 Grade: A (for ratification); C (for implementation)

1994 Grade: D

1995 Grade: C

1996 Grade: D

On June 11, 1992, Brian Mulroney was the first leader of an industrialized nation to sign the Biodiversity Convention in Rio de Janeiro. Canada has claimed ever since to be an "international leader" in protecting biodiversity -- a term which encompasses all the variations and diversity of life on earth, from genes to species to ecosystems. Beyond Rio commitments, the Liberal Red Book also described their vision of Canadian society as one that "protects the long term health and diversity of all species on the planet".

In fact, Canada pitched its commitment to biodiversity as a selling point in convincing the 180 other countries bound by the Convention to choose Montreal as its permanent home. The effort was successful and at the second Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention in Jakarta in November, 1995, Montreal was chosen as the host city for the Convention Secretariat within the United Nations Environment Programme.

But, beyond the green rhetoric, Canada's performance in protecting biodiversity has slipped in the last year. The biodiversity grade is based on a number of policy areas. They will be reviewed separately.

Endangered Species Legislation: D-

The Biodiversity Convention requires member countries to review their legislative protection for endangered species. Canada currently has no federal law to protect species from extinction. Australia, a similarly governed federal state, has, since Rio, brought in endangered species legislation to meet this commitment. The U.S. has had such legislation for over 20 years.

As noted in the 1995 report card, Canada would have failed to achieve a passing grade had it not been for former Environment Minister Sheila Copps' promise to bring in endangered species legislation. In August 1995, the proposed federal bill was unveiled for consultation. Environmental groups from coast to coast have unfortunately concluded that the proposed legislation is so bad that no bill at all would be preferable.14

The flaws in the bill are fundamental. It would only apply to 4 per cent of Canada's land base -- some federal land, but not all. It would not require protection of critical habitat. As 80 per cent of species loss is due to loss of a place to live, habitat protection is essential. It would not even prohibit the killing of endangered species through the act itself15. The government draft is inexplicably weaker than the multi-stakeholder Advisory Taskforce, including representatives of the agricultural and forest industries, which had unanimously recommended an advance review process to ensure projects did not threaten biodiversity. This element is also required by Article 8 of the Biodiversity Convention itself. No advance review requirement was included in the government's draft proposal.

No bill has yet been introduced for First Reading. The new Minister of Environment, the Honourable Sergio Marchi, has a real opportunity to raise this grade by substantially improving the federal government's approach before the bill goes to the drafters. The government is on the line to get a bill to First Reading having re-committed to it in the Speech from the Throne. Some of Minister Marchi's comments following that event were encouraging, especially on the issue of habitat protection. But without a safety net to ensure that no species in this country can become extinct due to federal-provincial wrangling, the act will not deliver on our Rio commitments.

An overly cautious approach on federal jurisdiction for endangered species, limiting it to all federal lands and species that cross international and interprovincial boundaries, could create dangerous precedents in other key areas of environmental policy.

Protected Areas: C+

Achievements in this area help to bring up the federal biodiversity grade. The first National Park of the Chretien government, Wapusk, was established this year in Churchill, Manitoba. Another northern park is expected soon. This follows years of inaction in which the much repeated goal (reiterated in the 1996 Speech from the Throne) of completing Canada's National Park system by the year 2000 seems to be slipping away. No new marine parks were created this year. And no new Heritage Rivers were announced. The World Wildlife Fund's Endangered Spaces Campaign gave the federal government a "C" on the protected areas file. We have moved that up in light of the Churchill Park announcement in April.

Sierra Club, however, is very concerned that the integrity of our National Park system will be adversely affected by deep budget cuts (25 per cent reduction in funding), and potentially by the plan announced in the March 1996 budget to privatize services within the parks through the creation of a "Parks Canada Agency". The legislative agenda to create such changes and the time and energy consumed in such transitions, coupled with projected staff reductions of approximately 2,000 people gives us cause for concern that biodiversity within the National Parks system, our highest level of protected area, will suffer. Given the on-going crisis in Banff, we wonder, and not entirely facetiously, when the government will franchise our parks to the Disney corporation so that when we lose critical ecosystems and species, robotic wildlife can be installed to entertain the tourists.

Adherence to the Federal Wetlands Policy: F

The federal government has a policy to ensure "no net loss" of wetlands. Wetlands are among the most seriously threatened of all ecosystems in Canada. Only 30 per cent of the original wetlands of southern Ontario and Quebec remain. Despite the federal policy, a particularly biodiversity-rich wetland, containing several provincially rare and endangered species of fern, frog and fish, as well as substantial old growth forest, was destroyed on federal land this year. The Canadian Museum of Nature was given the land by the Department of Public Works, as well as $30 million from Heritage Canada for construction of new facilities. Former Public Works Minister, the Honourable David Dingwall, approved the development despite objections from then Environment Minister Sheila Copps that the development would violate the federal government's own wetland policy.

The pathetic saga of the Museum of Nature's destruction of this valuable wetland (located in Aylmer, Quebec and known as the "Pink Road site") also served to highlight inadequacies in the application by this government of the environmental assessment process. When Sheila Copps became Minister of Heritage, responsible for the Canadian Museum of Nature, she requested that the Museum halt construction until she could conduct a review of the environmental impact. Between the Thursday afternoon when she asked for a halt to construction and the following Monday morning, crews worked through the weekend, pouring the foundations and making remediation so difficult that Minister Copps abandoned any objections. Nevertheless, Minister Copps announced that in order to comply with the federal policy, another wetland site should be protected, twice as large as the destroyed Pink Road site. This condition has still not been fulfilled.

While the amount of land at stake was small in terms of Canada as a whole, the over-riding of environmental concerns for economic ones by the Canadian Museum of Nature and the federal government sends a signal to all developers that this government is not serious about protecting wetlands -- or the biodiversity dependent upon them.

Marine Biodiversity:

This area is covered elsewhere in the report card. It should be noted, however, that decisions by DFO related to marine biodiversity would bring down the overall biodiversity grade to a failing one if factored in at this point.

4) Commitment to review and reform pesticide policies:


1993 Grade: F

1994 Grade: C

1995 Grade: D

1996 Grade: C-

In Rio, Canada committed itself to review and reform pesticide policies and legislation (Agenda 21, Chapter 14). In fact, the Pest Control Products Act had been under review since 1989, with commitments for its reform included in the Red Book.

There has been no progress in the last year in getting any amendments to Canada's outdated pesticide laws into Parliament. Plans to introduce amendments in May were postponed once again following the Cabinet shuffle to allow the new Health Minister, the Honourable David Dingwall, a chance to become familiar with the file. Legislative reform is now promised for the fall.

Meanwhile, the much vaunted Alternatives Office has a director and some staff, but no mandate. It seems to busy itself with minute negotiations with industry on the details of registration and cost recovery. The urgent issue for public health and the environment is to actively promote alternatives to chemical synthetic pesticides.

The only reason that this grade has improved since last year is to reflect approval from the environmental community for former Health Minister Diane Marleau's decision to ban carbofuran. Banning carbofuran was a priority goal of the Canadian Coalition for Biodiversity and was championed by World Wildlife Fund's Wildlife Toxicology Programme. Carbofuran is an extremely toxic carbamate insecticide, used primarily against grasshoppers. Its toxicity to birds is the primary reason that the prairie burrowing owl is on the endangered species list.

Pesticide reduction should be the centrepiece of Canada's revised pesticide registration policy. The decision to ban carbofuran is a signal that we might be moving in the right direction.


5) Commitment to Environmental Assessment:

1993 Grade: F

1994 Grade: C

1995 Grade: B-

1996 Grade: D

Agenda 21 contained many commitments to the principle of environmental assessment, as did the Convention on Biodiversity. The Chretien Government also made specific commitments to environmental assessment in the Red Book.

Last year's grade was primarily to reflect the accomplishment of finally proclaiming the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. However, in the 18 months since the Act was proclaimed it has been nearly invisible. While most environmental groups would agree that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency does an extremely good job of regular consultation with concerned groups, many are still wondering if they should have worked so hard to get the new Act through.

The key provisions to allow the federal environment minister to institute panel reviews have not been invoked once, despite specific appeals to do so. The Nova Scotia government's proposal to bury Canada's largest toxic waste site, the Sydney Tar Ponds, with slag from the old steel mill, requires a full panel review. Although Environment Minister Sergio Marchi has committed to a federal environmental assessment, there has been no commitment to a public process. Further, despite encouraging signals from the Minister as to his personal interest in this issue, the bureaucratic process seems to constantly retrench and hope to avoid assessments.

A further example is the massive proposed clear-cut logging in the aspen forests of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, particularly to accommodate Louisiana Pacific's new oriented strand board mill. The logging is scheduled to take place along the boundary of Riding Mountain National Park. Numerous environmental groups and First Nations in Manitoba have appealed to the federal government to conduct a full and meaningful assessment using the discretionary powers given to the federal Minister. So far, without result.

The federal government is being sued again on the Irving Whale issue, with one of Quebec's leading environmental groups arguing that the government has once again failed to abide by their own act.16

The mining boom in Labrador at Voisey's Bay should be the proving ground for the new legislation. Yet, no federal environmental assessment, or joint federal/provincial environmental assessment has been announced. Moreover, Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin is asking his old friends in Cabinet for the very treatment denied Hydro Quebec in the Great Whale hydro-development assessment. Tobin is pushing for split assessments, allowing roads and other infrastructure to be assessed as though they were unconnected from the giant mining development -- in order to ensure that nothing slows down development. There should be a panel created to deal with the environmental assessment to ensure that this massive project is dealt with in a thorough, well ordered fashion promised by the new Act. Quick and dirty assessments of mines will not achieve the best possible result.

But most troubling, are plans to remove the Fisheries Act as a trigger for environmental assessments. The devolving of federal authority over the environment to the provinces is not justified by the myth that the two jurisdictions create overlap and duplication. The loss of the Fisheries Act triggers from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be a huge set-back for environmental law in Canada. Given the removal of Fisheries Act triggers, a passing grade is generous.

6) Agenda 21 commitment to make trade and environment mutually supportive:


1993 Grade: F

1994 Grade: F

1995 Grade: F-

1996 Grade: F

The Rio agreements regarding trade in Agenda 21 are antithetical to many environmental groups. Agenda 21 should be seen as a rather pro-trade globalization document. Transnationals have little to fear from the commitments which include to "facilitate ...the integration of all countries into the world economy and the international trading system." But Agenda 21 did call for the environmental content of trade to be considered and for conscious efforts to ensure that the increasingly global and unregulated marketplace would not destroy the planet.

The failing grade holds, with the punitive minus removed to recognise that the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, has shown more concern for human rights and child labour than his predecessor. But a litany of trade decisions with no environmental context or attention to sustainable development leave the Chretien government with three straight years of failure.

Team Canada's efforts to sell CANDU reactors around the world, to countries like China and Indonesia, suggest no environmental awareness in trade teams. The decision to funnel tax dollars to China through the Export Development Corporation for one of the world's largest and most condemned projects, the Three Gorges Dam, is so egregious that a failing mark is earned even if other trade efforts were acceptable. Responsible lenders around the world, from Canada's own CIDA to the World Bank, have refused to support the Three Gorges project.

But Canada's blatant disregard for goals of ensuring that trade and environment are mutually supportive does not end there. At the World Trade Organization (WTO), Canada has a reputation of having the most environmentally hostile stance of any of the OECD countries. Moreover, Canada is one of the most antagonistic countries to observer status for non-government organizations. Currently, the World Trade Organization is one of the most powerful and least accountable bodies on earth. (The other candidate for that distinction being the International Monetary Fund).

In December in Singapore, the WTO will consider a number of critical issues from their Trade and Environment Committee. Among them: whether voluntary eco-labelling (such as certifying organic produce or sustainably harvested forest products) violates the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the GATT), and whether major international environmental conventions, such as the Montreal Protocol to protect the Ozone Layer or the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) constitute non-tariff barriers to trade.

Canada can markedly improve this grade by engaging in public consultations leading to the WTO Singapore meeting to ensure that civil society has a meaningful opportunity to influence our national positions. Canada must reverse its unhelpful positions on issues of WTO transparency, and begin that process at home.


7) Commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources:

1993 Grade: B-

1994 Grade: F

1995 Grade: C

1996 Grade: F

Agenda 21 included commitments to ensure the "conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources". As well, Canada pushed fishery conservation issues at Rio, particularly those related to high seas over-fishing.

Canada now faces a collapsed groundfishery off the East Coast and collapsing salmon stocks on the West Coast. Over the last year, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) policy has led to social chaos -- from sit-ins by fishers and by women's support groups throughout Nova Scotia, to riots in New Brunswick, to unrest in British Columbia. Management is on a crisis by crisis basis. Despite former Fisheries Minister John Crosbie's self-serving comment that being fisheries minister is a thankless task, is such a disastrous record inevitable?

Most environmental groups and small-scale fishers do not think so. The new Minister of Fisheries, the Honourable Fred Mifflin, has failed to take the proposed Canada Oceans Act, which is widely viewed as a step in the right direction, past Third Reading. After Parliamentary Committee hearings, it appears to have dropped off the government's agenda.

Meanwhile, other key provisions for the conservation of the fishery are being dismantled. The strongest provisions of the Fisheries Act, sections 35(1) and 35(2) are being substantially weakened, with a Cabinet approved plan to devolve protection of fishery habitat to the provinces. The Fisheries Act and its habitat protection provisions are arguably the strongest environmental law in Canada. Delegating authority over them to the provinces is a huge mistake. Yet, it is being ushered through the sytem without any opportunity for public debate.

Canada has still failed to ratify the United Nations Law of the Sea, more than twenty years after Canada played a leading role in negotiating it. Moreover, we seem to have taken a decision not to ratify at the very time that countries like the U.K., and even Spain, are getting on board.

Canada has signed the U.N. Treaty on Highly Migratory and Straddling Stocks, one of our top issues at Rio. According to the diplomat who chaired those negotiations, Ambassador Satya Nandan of Fiji, the terms of that treaty apply in waters within the 200-mile limit. Canada does not accept that view and is not implementing the Convention at home. Canada has an obligation to implement all the Convention's provisions, including: application of the precautionary principle, increasing gear selectivity, reducing by-catch (the catch of non-intended species, generally thrown back to sea dead) and waste, respecting the interests of small-scale fishers, and making fisheries management transparent.

The Risk Adverse Management Strategy recommended for the West coast fishery in a report to the Minister from Ambassador John Fraser last year has also not been fully implemented. While some efforts have been made to respond to his report, given the state of the stocks, it is imperative that every aspect be implemented. Some of Ambassador Fraser's recommendations also are found in the principles of the straddling stocks treaty, particularly adherence to the precautionary principle.

What is DFO doing?

On both East and West coasts, management decisions in the name of conservation seem to have the goal of reducing the number of fishers, without necessarily reducing the catching capacity of the fishing fleet. Social conflict is the result of targeting the wrong people in the search for conservation. Rather than reduce small-scale fishers, such as the Nova Scotia hook and line fishers who were using the very most selective and ecologically appropriate fishing gear, the department should be looking at eliminating those gear types with high levels of bycatch and with habitat damaging results (i.e. draggers). (Following occupations in DFO offices in Shelburne, Yarmouth and other Nova Scotia locations, DFO relented and agreed that a handline could be licensed under their new licensing policy.) In Newfoundland, should the fishery ever recover, the policy is clearly to reduce the number of fishers, with the more sustainable in-shore fleet being drastically reduced. On the West coast, the same down-sizing is occurring without reducing the overall catching capacity. Minister Mifflin's highly controversial fleet rationalisation on the West coast may well reduce the number of small boats while increasing corporate concentration and leaving enough large-scale boats with less selective gear in place to push the fish stocks to collapse.

The British Columbia salmon fishery is also still threatened by a largely unregulated sport fishery. Despite recent announcements for a non-retention Chinook fishery, there is still no limit on the number of licences, nor is there control over such practices as double and triple and barbed hooks.

The British Columbia fishery still has an unacceptably high rate of by-catch. A recently leaked report, leading to a Vancouver Sun editorial, detailed appalling levels of waste and the unintentional killing of animals from Stellar Sea Lions to star fish.

DFO is also pursuing the implementation of individual transferable quotas (ITQs)17. A recent report by DFO personnel in the Scotia Fundy Region noted: "The major side effects of the new ITQ program ...have been dumping, discarding and highgrading of catches at sea which are undetectable by conventional means and presently unenforceable."18 The increasing privatization of rights to the fishery is likely to provoke more social conflict. The potential is found within the proposed Canada Oceans Act to move to a more community management approach. But, once again, the marine conservation community is baffled to the stalling of this key legislation.

An essential element of Canada's protected areas strategy will also help meet the challenge of conservation of living marine resources. The Canada Oceans Act, if it ever receives Royal Assent, will encourage establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Thus far, Canada has only two Marine Protected Areas, one in Georgian Bay and the other adjacent to Pacific Rim National Park in B.C. To improve this grade, there must be action on MPA's in the coming year.

DFO remains largely unaccountable in the face of management decisions which have put 30,000 people out of work in Atlantic Canada, led to the collapse of one of the world's most productive fisheries, and put the once lucrative B.C. fishery into the intensive care unit. Recommendations from communities were made through the vehicle of a joint taskforce of the Newfoundland and Labrador Round Table on the Environment and Economy and its parallel National Round Table. To date, no response has been made by the department, and the federal Minister has rejected requests for a meeting to review the report's central findings.

The final insult to any notion that the department has learned anything from the collapse of the East coast cod fishery was a recent announcement that size requirements for the harvest of capelin will be reduced. One of the rationales offered for an ecologically unsound and economically perverse seal kill of a quarter of a million animals this year was that seals eat capelin. Capelin populations are essential if the cod fishery is to ever recover. As noted in last year's report card, capelin is the base of the food chain. But capelin has all but disappeared. If the government were serious about the recovery of the cod stocks, it would ban any capelin fishery before launching a misguided seal hunt.

Yet the commercial capelin harvest continues. Previous years quotas for capelin, fished for the Japanese market for the roe, could not be reached as the capelins' individual size was too small to be legally caught19. After a campaign from fish plant owners and processors on shore, the Newfoundland Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries requested that the federal government reduce the size for legal capelin. This spring, DFO complied, and against every single principle of conservation biology, issued a reduction in legal capelin to allow much smaller fish to be harvested. The quota will be for 40,000 tons of capelin. No management plan has yet been released.

How loudly will the death knell for our fisheries have to ring before DFO hears it?


8) Commitments to Indigenous peoples:

1993 Grade: D

1994 Grade: C+

1995 Grade: F

1996 Grade: F

The absence of Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Ovide Mercredi and other indigeneous leaders at the upcoming First Ministers Conference will confirm what aboriginal people have been saying for the last year. The issue of justice for First Nations seems to have fallen off the government agenda. The concerns of the Innu Nation are being ignored in the development of Voisey's Bay. The Lubicon and Cree are still facing clear-cutting on their territories, while the Manitoba First Nations have sought federal help in vain to deal with clear-cutting on their lands. The Cree have sought European help to stop new clear-cuts in their area.

Despite some good efforts by Canada's delegation at the Biodiversity Convention to support the role of indigenous peoples internationally in the implementation of the Biodiversity Convention, we are not taking our own advice domestically.

9) Incorporating Environmental concerns into every aspect of government decision making


1993 Grade: N/A

1994 Grade: B+

1995 Grade: D

1996 Grade: D-

The Earth Summit documents, particularly through Agenda 21, called for environmental concerns to be incorporated into every aspect of government decision making. The Liberal Red Book chapter on Sustainable Development set out impressive commitments to meet this goal. Initial high marks for this government have fallen steadily as key aspects of the Red Book promises remain unfulfilled.

The budget is the most important statement of environmental priorities of the federal Government. One of the key Red Book commitments, as related in the Rio Report Card since 1994, was the promised "baseline study of federal taxes, grants and subsidies, in order to identify barriers and disincentives to sound environmental practice." Following last year's flawed effort through a multi-stakeholder taskforce, which in the view of environmental members was sabotaged from its inception, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development held hearings on the topic and issued a strong report. Yet, the baseline review has still not moved. As mentioned in last year's report card, there was to be an OECD study on subsidies. It is apparently just getting started now, and results are some time away.

The budgetary axe continues to fall disproportionately on key elements of environmental policy across many federal departments. As noted under other headings of this report card, the Parks Service has been cut by 25 per cent, the Canadian Wildlife Service by 30 per cent, and key forest research centres across the country have been closed or substantially reduced. Cuts have also threatened the survival of two world renowned scientific centres -- the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg and the Burlington Centre in Ontario. Some of Canada's, indeed 37 of the world's, best scientists have been handed pink slips. Key long-term research into northern lakes may be abandoned. The research strikes at the heart of our ability to understand environmental contaminants, atmospheric changes and the interactions between them. As the Ottawa Citizen's science writer, Tom Spears put it, "The Freshwater Institute scientists have world-leading record covering nearly three decades."20

Overall, Environment Canada has been cut by 35 per cent.

We are destroying our scientific knowledge base. We will not be able to repair and restore it at a later date without exceedingly high costs.

Meanwhile, despite a claim in the budget documents that the 1996/97 federal subsidy to the nuclear industry declined, it actually rose slightly by approximately one and a half million dollars.

A total of $174 million went to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited in a direct subsidy in 1996. The budget has forecast real cuts next year, but cuts level off in 1998/99 and the subsidy will remain at the $100 million mark, apparently indefinitely.

Meanwhile, tax concessions to the oil and gas sector continue. (see climate change grade for details).

To Finance Minister Paul Martin's credit, a number of innovative measures were adopted in the budget to improve the competitiveness of the Canadian energy renewable companies. Credit for these measures, we understand, goes personally to the Minister who had to overcome objections in his department.

There is potential for progress in the amendments to the Auditor General's Act which received Royal Assent in early January, 1996. Amendments are a weak attempt to fulfil the Red Book commitment to an Environmental Commissioner. The Red Book promise would have created a more independent Commissioner, responsible directly to Parliament. Instead, the government has created a position within the bureaucratic structure of the Auditor General's Office. Nevertheless, the objects of the Environmental Auditor General's mandate are encouraging, reflecting a well-developed sense of sustainability -- including environmental concern, as well as social justice and equity. Each federal department will be required to develop a sustainable development plan against which the Environmental Auditor General can judge their progress. Key in the potential for this position will be the individual appointed to fill it. An announcement is expected any day.

These efforts, budgetary support to renewable energy and the passage of the Environmental Auditor General Act, have spared the government from flunking this area in 1996. But, it has been a difficult grading area due to the Chretien government's nearly total disregard for the environment on many fronts.

As this section of the report card deals with those structural elements designed to ensure that environment is incorporated into government decision making, the re-organization of the Cabinet system by the Chretien government deserves mention. If one had deliberately tried to design a system that would stack the cards against an environment minister, the current system would be it. By defining Environment Canada as an "economic" department, the department got a double-whammy.

Firstly, it was not protected from budget cuts as "social" departments were. Secondly, the Minister of Environment must pass every initiative through a Cabinet sub-committee loaded with those ministers most likely to be hostile to environmental issues. The Economic sub-committee of Cabinet is often the only place Cabinet members debate environmental measures. Ministers of Health cannot speak to measures to protect health by cleaning up the environment. While Ministers of Finance, Industry, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Trade and Fisheries -- traditionally the least sympathetic to environment --- make the decisions.

Of deep concern to environmental organizations, is the potential for federal responsibility for the environment to be treated as a bargaining chip at the upcoming First Minister's Meeting. The Honourable Stephane Dion has made it known that he regards the environment as an area that could be handed over to the provinces. There are already significant moves toward devolving responsibility for key provisions of the Fisheries Act.

Groups from coast to coast regard the abdication of federal responsibility for the environment as a nightmare scenario. Provincial governments have differing capacities to deal with environmental threats. As numerous court decisions have made clear, the federal government has a constitutional responsibility to protect environmental quality. Toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases, wildlife and fish do not respect national or provincial boundaries. For a host of issues, the federal government must remain primarily responsible, while working cooperatively and efficiently with provincial governments.


10. Forests

1994 Grade: A

1995 Grade: C+

1996 Grade: C-

Bearing in mind that cutting practices are entirely within provincial jurisdiction, the Rio Report Card has, for the last three years, assessed the federal government for its forest-related activities. The federal role is particularly significant in international negotiations and other processes that could lead to global laws to arrest deforestation.

The federal Government continues to get high marks for its international work. The Department of Natural Resources, through the Canadian Forest Service does a consistently fine job of consulting with the relevant interest groups (environmental, aboriginal, industrial and corporate), prior to major meetings, as well as in including non-government groups on their delegations. Work at the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, created last year at the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, is scheduled to wrap up in April, 1997. Thus far, progress on substantive issues is moving slowly.

Canada will also be hosting the World Commission on Forests in Winnipeg in late September and early October. The World Commission on Forests, created by the InterAction Council of former heads of state, will be hearing from people concerned with forests in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Bringing down the grade are the massive cuts to federal science in this area. With climate change threatening to virtually wipe out the boreal forest, new insect threats associated with climate change, and over-harvesting occurring across the country, it is a poor time to undermine our scientific capacity to track forest ecosystem health. The Federal Insect Disease Survey will be no more. The forest research centre in Petawawa has closed, and the Forest Pest Management Institute has amalgamated with the Ontario Region office. When this is combined with the 20 per cent reduction in staff nation-wide, the result is a significant loss of research services.


The Speech from the Throne promised to withdraw totally from forest issues, but provincial governments are unlikely to be able to pick up the research agenda. In fact, most provinces are also reducing their capacity in this area. (Of particular concern, see discussion in Ontario report card.)


11. The Environmentally Sound Management of Toxic Chemicals

1996 Grade: D

Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 contains six programme areas. On Programme Area B, the harmonization of classification and labelling of chemicals, Canada has made some useful contributions. Basically, Canada is pushing for an international version of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), Canada's progressive national right-to-know law on chemical hazards.

On one major area that could substantially reduce chemical pollution worldwide, namely Programme Area D on risk reduction programmes, there has been very little activity. This programme area is susceptible to many interpretations, not all of them progressive or useful; but the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) has focused its attention on pollution prevention and cleaner technologies . In these areas, Canada's record has been abysmally poor.

On paper, Canada has defined Pollution Prevention in a very proper and useful way and, nominally, it has a very good approach embodied in Pollution Prevention, A Federal Strategy for Action which passed through the Cabinet in the summer of 1995. But its proposals for implementing Pollution Prevention are entirely unconvincing.

The Government will amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) in the light of the Report of the Standing Committee on Environment It's About Our Health! Towards Pollution Prevention (June 1995). But the Government's proposals are in no sense a national programme of Pollution Prevention: only a handful of toxic chemicals will be covered and the pollution prevention planning requirements are ludicrously weak, compared to several U.S. industrial states, for example.

The Government's other activities around Pollution Prevention, such as its Toxic Chemicals Management Strategy (June 1995), the Priority Substances Programme, Priority Substances assessments, and the Strategic Options Programme, have had a negligable effect on the Canadian environment. Much of the work of Environment Canada, is in the view of the Canadian Labour Congress, a bureaucratic charade, conducted at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer and the environment.

As in so many other areas, Canada has to stop the international pretense of being an environmental advocate and actually do something concrete at home to protect our domestic environment.


Last year, the Rio Report Card took note of the significant damage this government has done to Environment Canada, and spending by other departments in the environmental field. Examining the relative positioning of Environment in the federal constellation of departments, we concluded that only Minister Sheila Copps' personal clout as Deputy Prime Minister kept the Chretien government from consigning Environment Canada to the bottom of the heap.

The new minister, the Honourable Sergio Marchi, has had a promising start. He has acted to re-introduce legislation to ban the gasoline additive, MMT, a neurotoxin. He has committed himself to improved endangered species legislation. He appears to have grasped the imperative of climate change, and to be capable of achieving consensus with his provincial colleagues. And, as noted elsewhere, he appears ready to ensure that the federal Government fulfils its responsibilities to assess any clean-up of Canada's largest toxic waste site in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

But the system has never been so hostile to environmental initiatives. Environment Canada is now the smallest department in the federal government. And its Minister is considered junior in Cabinet. On this day, the 25th birthday of the department, it is time for the environmental movement to be very clear with the Prime Minister and the Liberal government:

THE LIBERAL GOVERNMENT RECORD, THUS FAR IN THEIR MANDATE, IS SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE THAN THAT OF THEIR CONSERVATIVE PREDECESSORS. In fact, in terms of environmental performance, this Government is arguably the worst since the creation of Environment Canada twenty five years ago today. As noted, this government's commitments have been repeatedly broken or ignored -- from the promised 20 per cent cut in CO2 to the promised increase in ODA to the baseline review of subsidies.

Next June, the nations of the world will meet for a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly to review progress since Rio. This will be an accountability session. Canada stands at risk of losing its previously environmentally responsible reputation.

To bring the overall environmental grades to a passing level before the next election is a daunting challenge, but one that can be met with political will. BUT IT HAS TO COME FROM THE TOP. Prime Minister Chretien must send a signal that his environment minister has his full support on issues from endangered species to climate change. The government as a whole has its work cut out for it if it does not want to be remembered as the government with the worst environmental record of the last 25 years.


  1. A State of the Environment Report, The State of Canada's Climate: Monitoring Variability and Change, Environment Canada, 1995.
  2. Final Workshop of the Mackenzie Basin Impact Study, Abstracts of Paper and Poster Sessions
  3. Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba,
  4. Apps, Michael and Kurz, Werner, Retrospective assessment of carbon flows in Canadian boreal forests, 1995. According to this report: "After taking up carbon from the atmosphere for six decades (1920 to 1980), forest ecosystem carbon decreased by 57 MtC/year in the last decade of the analysis (1980-90)." The decline in carbon is attributed to forest fires and pests: harvesting affected 6.7per cent of the forest area from 1920-1990.
  5. Estimated trends in ice extent and ice area: rates of decrease of 4.5 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively between 1978-1995. Johannessen, et al, Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre, Bergen, Norway, May, 1996.
  6. Summary Policy Makers, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate, Second Scientific Assessment of Climate Change, 1995.
  7. Personal communication, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  8. Kalkstein and Tan, 1995. As Climate Changes, International Impacts and Implications, Cambridge Press.
  9. Existing Regulation, System-Wide Regulation and Crisis Conditions, Final Report, Working Committee 3, Levels Reference Study Board, Final Phase, Levels Reference Study, International Joint Commission, March 31, 1993.
  10. The current federal Liberal Government election platform was published in its famous Red Book.
  11. Environment Canada, Pollution Data Branch, May 5, 1996.
  12. Canada's Voluntary Challenge and Registry Program: An Independent Review, A report by the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, November 1995.
  13. Partial draft, June 1, 1996, Informetrica macroecononimc analysis of Climate Action Network, Rational Energy Program, Analyis of measures impact to 2010.
  14. This view is shared by groups including the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Canadian Nature Federation, the Sierra Club of Canada, Sierra Legal Defence Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the Canadian Biodiversity Institute, Ocean Voice, the West Coast Environmental Law Association, the Canadian Coalition for Biodiversity, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society -- many of which are member groups of the Endangered Species Coalition.
  15. Although it would make provisions for regulations to do so.
  16. In their current case, La Societe pour Vaincre la pollution (SVP) is arguing that since emergency preparedness is, under the Act, an aspect of mitigation, and since mitigation is an essential element of any environmental assessment, the decision to proceed with plans to raise the Whale in the absence of contingency planning is a prima facie violation of the Act.
  17. An ITQ is a quota of fish allocated to an individual fisher or company which can be bought or sold.
  18. Nancy Shackell and Karen Howllett, "Between the Issues", Newsletter of the Ecology Action Centre, Halifax, Spring 1996, p.16
  19. In 1994, for example, DFO issued a quota for 45,000 tons but only 1700 tons were landed. In 1995 the quota was 47,000 tons and none was legally landed. The size requirement was for fifty count/kilo.
  20. Ottawa Citizen, May 8, 1996, p.A11

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