The Government of Canada makes promises about protecting nature, but do you ever wonder how well they follow through?
The Auditor General of Canada has a Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and every year the commissioner publishes reports on how the government is performing on their stated objectives. These reports inform parliament of the government’s track record and are also available to the public.
Unfortunately, recent reports by Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development show that Canada is falling short in protecting species at risk.
The Sustainability Network recently hosted a webinar inviting them to talk about these reports. In the webinar, the Commissioner Jerry V. DeMarco, and two principals in the department discussed three recent reports related to species at risk in Canada.
The first report was not an audit but a backgrounder on Canada’s commitments to biodiversity. This is a great refresher on what the challenges and promises are. For example, 841 species are assessed as at-risk in Canada, with 640 officially included in the Species at Risk Act (SARA). The report highlights some species that are recovering and, sadly, many that continue to decline despite legislated action.
The Commissioner and principals also discussed two audit reports – one on aquatic species at risk and one on the sustainability goals related to species at risk. These audits assess the performance of the government on their stated goals. Although there are some wins and some good work is certainly being done, overall, they found some big gaps. Two of these that stand out the most are:
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is focusing mainly on marine commercial species. They are slow to classify these species at risk and they are also falling short of protecting the freshwater species that are classified. Half of the 230 species included in the report are still waiting decisions on whether to be included in the SARA. They conclude that DFO is not adequately protecting aquatic species at risk.
Canada is also not meeting its sustainability goals to have at least 60% of classified Species at Risk show “trends consistent with recovery strategies and management plans”. This target was lowered in 2017 from the previous goal of 100%, but they are still not meeting it. Currently, only 42% of assessed species show some signs of recovery.
The Commissioner’s reports include recommendations to the government and the response from the relevant departments.
The Commissioner also highlighted the availability to Canadians of their environmental petition process. This is a formal process through the Commissioner that may be launched by an individual, group or organization. Canadian residents can raise their concerns about environmental issues directly to federal ministers. It requires that the minister responsible responds to the petition within 120 days. Petitions are tracked by the Commissioner’s office and are factored into their audits.
If you have something to say to a minister or department about their plans and performance on species at risk, or any environmental issue, this is a great way to do it. We encourage you to make use of this little-known resource to exercise your right to be heard by your government!
Lesley joined Ontario Nature in 2022. She holds a B.Sc. in Biology from the University of Guelph, a diploma in Ecosystem Management from Fleming College and an M.Sc. in Biology from Queen’s University. She has diverse work experience including roles with government and not-for-profits in stewardship, conservation and granting. She has been active in a turtle conservation and research project in Kingston and area since 2016. She is a member of Kingston area nature groups and enjoys running, cycling, swimming, camping, hiking and gardening.