Scott Vaughan, in his final report as environmental commissioner, calls for an environmental boom to match our resources boom.
Kevin Page is taking on folk hero status in some quarters, Sheila Fraser flirted with sainthood and Michael Ferguson has already made his mark on the proposed F-35 purchase.
We elevate our watchdogs and auditors in this country because we see them as speaking truth to power. The Parliamentary press gallery likes them because they make news.
Scott Vaughan doesnt have the profile of some of his contemporaries but as the environmental commissioner bowed out with a final report Tuesday, he reminded official Ottawa how much he will be missed.
Vaughan is leaving after five years of what he calls in typical understatement identifying gaps in the environmental policies of the Conservative government. More often than not, those gaps are more like chasms.
He also departs at a time when the environment and the economy has never been so intertwined in this country, a point he hammered home before taking his leave.
As he pointed out, about 30 per cent of Canadas gross domestic product is fuelled by exports, and natural resources account for half those exports. More than 750,000 Canadians were working in the resource sector in 2010 and that number is growing. Ottawa estimates more than 600 major resource projects, representing $650 billion in new investments, are under way or planned across the country for the next decade.
We know that theres a boom in natural resources in this country and I think what we need now, given the gaps, given the problems we found, is a boom in environmental protection in this country as well, he said.
As Vaughan delivered his final environmental audit to Parliament, Alberta Premier Alison Redford and New Brunswick Premier David Alward met to discuss moving oil from west to east, Redford sits on a revenue-sapping bitumen bubble, the Keystone XL pipeline was the subject of U.S. Congressional hearings and Canadas First Nations are demanding both environmental protection and revenue-sharing from the valuable resources on their lands.
None of this will happen unless we match the environment and economy in lockstep, Vaughan said.
He listed some stunning gaps.
He pointed to Canadas lack of preparedness for a major offshore oil spill on its east coast and warned of a potential 300 per cent jump in tanker traffic on the west coast.
He reminded us the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil and the clean-up and other costs of civil damages has hit $40 billion.
In Canada, the corporate liability for such spills is $30 million on the east coast, and the liability for the nuclear industry is $75 million and has not been updated in more than 35 years, something Vaughan called pretty shocking. The liability limit in the U.S. for a nuclear accident is $12 billion.
Environment Minister Peter Kent, who received this report weeks ago, signaled that liability limit will rise considerably, so score another victory for Vaughan.
The commissioner said environmental oversight of the number of mining projects in the booming north is lacking and he pointed to another boom, this one in hydraulic fracturing, known generically as fracking.
There are 200,000 fracking wells in the country today, but that number will hit 400,000 by 2032, and there are more than 800 substances used in the procedure, 33 of them known to be toxic, the overwhelming majority remain untested by the government, making the health risk to Canadians impossible to quantify.
The bill for the clean-up of environmentally contaminated sites in this country has risen to $8.3 billion, Vaughan reported.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintained his government will continue down a road of responsible resource development, and he called Vaughans report a useful piece of advice.
Vaughan is leaving two years before the end of his mandate to take a post with for a Winnipeg-based public policy institute, but he denies he is leaving with any frustration.
Instead, he points to a series of measures the government had taken in response to his reports, including better pipeline inspections and better preparedness for oil spills from vessels in Canadian waters.
One is left to wonder where this governments environmental policies would be without the constant push from Vaughan.
After five years of probing those gaps, he says he can draw a cumulative portrait and it is one frightening work of art.
There are serious questions about the federal capacity to safeguard Canadas environment, he says.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org