From rising fuel emissions to increasing pressure on animal habitats, Canada is neglecting to enforce the environmental commitments it led the world in creating, two government-sponsored reports have concluded.
"While Canada has demonstrated vision" in advocating international efforts to protect the environment, "it is failing in implementing it," said Brian Emmett, an independent federal commissioner assigned to monitor the country's efforts at environmental protection. "Far too often, the government is not keeping the promises it makes both to Canadians and to the world."Similarly sharp language was contained in a recent report by a House of Commons committee, chaired by a member of the governing Liberal Party caucus, which found that recent budget cuts have severely limited Canada's ability to enforce environmental laws. The committee found that the federal government's decision to shift power to Canada's provinces - and a hesitancy to question or counteract provincial judgments - has allowed violations of environmental laws to go unpunished. Canada's provincial governments are far more powerful than U.S. state governments, and tension between them and the federal government in Ottawa colors much of Canadian politics.
Ontario, the committee noted, no longer enforces certain sections of its fisheries act, Quebec has ignored potentially illegal discharges from its pulp and paper industry, and New Brunswick overlooked a serious outbreak of disease in its aquaculture industry.
The reports also indicate major development projects are not adequately reviewed for their effect on the environment and federal departments are not doing enough to determine how Canada will meet its international commitments, such as the promise signed last year in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Canada and the United States are responsible for far more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than any other countries. In Canada, Emmett said, there is no strategy for halting annual increases.
At this point, he said, the Canadian government does not even have a full picture of the promises it has made, an issue Emmett said he plans to address by assembling a database of all the agreements and commitments to which Canada is a party.
The reports likely will increase pressure on the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien to expand funding for environmental programs, particularly since budget analysts are projecting surpluses, after years of heavy deficits triggered sharp spending cuts in all federal agencies.
Opinion polls routinely find widespread public support for environmental protection in Canada. Disputes and studies in recent months, however, have eroded the perception of Canada as one of the world's more environmentally sensitive governments.