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Canada's Environmental Record Bad - Official Report
by David Ljunggren

Planet Ark

28th October 2004

The Canadian government is not doing enough to protect the environment because of a lack of leadership and political will, a senior official said in a scathing report released.
Johanne Gelinas, Canada's commissioner of the environment, said some salmon populations were in trouble and that Ottawa had no idea whether initiatives to cut oil pollution and improve air quality were working.

"Why is progress so slow? After all, the mandates and commitments are there, the knowledge of what to do and how to do it is there, and we know it can be done," she said in a statement accompanying the annual report.

"I am left to conclude that the reasons are lack of leadership, lack of priority and lack of will," added Gelinas, who reports directly to Parliament.

She said she had identified "some serious failures" in the way Ottawa dealt with the environment and said significant improvement was needed.

"I am concerned at signs that Canada's environmental status may be slipping," she said. Environmental activists have long complained about what they see as the patchy record of the ruling Liberals, who have been in power since 1993.

Although Canada has ratified the Kyoto protocol on climate change - which calls for a 6 percent cut in emissions of greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2012 - it has yet to produce a plan showing how it could achieve the reduction.

In 2001, emissions of greenhouse gases in Canada were 18.5 percent above 1990 levels.

Opposition legislators said the report showed that Ottawa did not know what it was doing and had no real commitment to green issues.

"When it comes to the environment, this government is racing (U.S. President) George W. Bush to the bottom of the international heap," Nathan Cullen of the left-leaning New Democrats told Parliament.

Environment Minister Stephane Dion said the government was ready to act on some of the report's recommendations.

"This report indicates the government has some improvements to make.... (We) welcome this report," he said.

Gelinas reserved much of her ire for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which she said had ignored three previous reports by her office stressing problems with falling stocks of some Atlantic and Pacific salmon.

The government oversight of wild salmon was also blasted this week by auditor generals in British Columbia and New Brunswick, who released their reports in conjunction with the federal study.

The reports said the provinces and federal government need to better co-ordinate their protection activities, and identify the risks to the wild salmon population from salmon raised in fish farms.

"Some experts suggest that the depleted state of wild salmon on the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America stands as a warning for managers of wild Pacific salmon," British Columbia's Wayne Strelioff wrote.

(Additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver)

Story by David Ljunggren