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Harper government lax on climate change issues, report says

The federal government has failed to develop a plan to help Canadians adapt to the potentially devastating impacts of climate change, Canada's Environment Commissioner says in a new report that admonishes the government for its lack of leadership around environmental issues.

The Canadian government acknowledged 20 years ago that climate-change impacts will pose serious threats to Canada, Scott Vaughan said after releasing the report on Tuesday.

But, said Mr. Vaughan, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Ottawa has never established clear priorities or taken concrete action to deal with the anticipated effects, including severe storms in the Atlantic region, extreme heat through Central Canada and extended drought on the Prairies.

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"The health of Canadians and Canada's natural environment, communities and economy are vulnerable to the impacts of the changing climate and the government's not ready to respond to them," he said.

The report, which also found that the Canadian Coast Guard is poorly prepared to deal with spills from ships and that the monitoring of the country's water resources is inadequate, was released while federal Environment Minister John Baird was attending an international conference on climate change in Cancun, Mexico.

It also coincided with the publication of a report by the United Nations Environment Program that said the glaciers in southwest Canada and the northern United States are disappearing at the third-fastest rate in the world - outpaced only by the glaciers in Patagonia, in South America, and those along the Alaskan coastal mountain range.

While Mr. Baird reiterates his government's position that international agreements on climate change are worthless without the co-operation of big emitters like China and the United States, Mr. Vaughan's report highlights the need for more preparation here in Canada.

The commissioner looked at five government departments - Environment Canada, Natural Resources, Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs, and Fisheries and Oceans - and determined that, with few exceptions, they have yet to develop policies to adjust to the threats of global warming. Nor has the federal government put a central plan in place to co-ordinate efforts between departments.

In addition, said the report, the funding for three adaptation programs that do exist within departments will end in March and there is no plan to replace it.

With Mr. Baird in Mexico, it was left to Transport Minister Chuck Strahl to field opposition questions about the commissioner's report.

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"We, of course, are working to address those concerns that were raised. We welcome his suggestions," Mr. Strahl said. "In fact we are already taking action on preventing and preparing for environmental emergencies, something that he highlighted, strengthening our water-monitoring program and investing in climate-change adaptation. Those recommendations are welcome and they are consistent with what the government is already doing."

But Mr. Vaughan said his findings paint a "discouraging picture" and suggest underlying problems in how these federal programs are being managed.

"In short," he said, "the two fundamental problems we identified are a lack of effective and sustained leadership, especially when responsibilities are shared, and inadequate information."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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