Official report slams Canada over environment

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadians are being forced to drink
unsafe water, fish stocks are endangered and national parks are
under threat because Ottawa is doing a very poor job of
protecting the environment, according to an official report
issued on Thursday.

The stinging document by Johanne Gelinas, Canada’s
environment commissioner, makes grim reading for a Liberal
government already under fire for what critics say is its
patchy environmental record.

Gelinas said government initiatives on ensuring sustainable
development were regularly undermined by bad management.

“A recurring theme throughout this year’s report is that
the federal government suffers from a chronic inability to see
its own initiatives to completion. It starts out but rarely, if
ever, reaches the finish line,” she wrote.

“This is not good news, given the mounting evidence that we
are on an unsustainable path.”

Gelinas blamed government mismanagement for serious
problems with water quality, especially among aboriginals
living on reserves where living conditions are poor.

“Not all Canadians can assume that their drinking water in
always safe. The government is not working hard enough to
protect Canadians from unsafe drinking water,” she said.

Budget cuts meant that health inspectors were no longer
examining water on board airliners, which posed a potential
risk to millions of passengers, she added.

The report is bad publicity for Ottawa as its prepares to
host an international meeting in November on how to draw up a
successor to the Kyoto accord on climate change.

The existing agreement obliges Canada to cut the output of
greenhouse gases by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012 but
Canada’s overall emissions in 2003 were in fact 24 percent
above 1990 levels.

Rick Smith, director of the Environmental Defense group,
said that in the course of a decade Canada had become an
international environmental delinquent.

“Canada is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to
environmental performance among industrialized nations,” he
told Reuters.

“The federal government is completely out of step with
where Canadians are at on the environment… Canadians have let
(Ottawa) get away with talk as opposed to action.”

Environment Minister Stephane Dion is due to comment on the
report later on Thursday.

Gelinas was particularly critical of Ottawa’s long-standing
failure to follow its own plans to set up marine areas to
protect shrinking fish stocks.

She also said inadequate planning for an increased number
of visitors meant “the health of Canada’s national parks is in
danger,” while the federal government — which spent C$13
billion on goods and services in 2003 — should insist
suppliers were committed to sustainable development.

“It is astounding that the government has been promising a
policy to direct departments to green their procurement for
over a decade — and the policy is still not ready,” she said.

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