Intervenor: Vol 23. No 4 October - December 1998

A Briefing On The Harmonization Accord

The federal Minister of the Environment is handing over her power and responsibilities to the provinces.

The Harmonization Accord was signed by Ms. Stewart and the other members of the CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment) January 29, 1998. The provisions of the Accord itself give several reasons to be concerned the federal government is giving away its power:

briefing on the Harmonization Accordunder the terms of the Accord, the order of government "best situated" to deal with an environmental issue will be responsible for its resolution. We suspect that the "government" the Accord will define as "best situated" are the provinces.

Paragraph 6 of the Accord says, "When a government has accepted obligations and is discharging a role, the other order of government shall not act in that role for the period of time as determined by the relevant sub-agreement." Once a province takes ownership of an issue, the federal government cannot act within a certain predetermined time period, even if the province fails to.

The Accord works by consensus-all parties must agree to all sections of the Accord, to all terms of the sub-agreements and to all future amendments. With the provinces increasingly unable (or unwilling) to protect their own environments, the terms of agreements on things like Canada-wide standards, will fall to the lowest common environmental denominator.

There are no measures in the Accord to provide the provinces with the funding they will need to assume new responsibilities.

There is no evidence that the Accord will eliminate so-called duplications of jurisdictions.There is evidence there are no such duplications.

In spite of requests from environmental groups for information on precisely what duplications in jurisdictions and regulations the Accord will resolve, no government has supplied the information. Yet "preventing overlapping activities and inter-jurisdictional disputes" remains one of the objectives of the Accord. However, evidence from a study by Environment Canada itself suggests that there is very little, if any, duplication. In fact, the combined monitoring, inspection and regulatory forces of both the BC and the federal governments were necessary to get a sector of the lumber industry in that province to clean up its polluting ways. The study also showed voluntary compliance alone was ineffective.

[Environment Canada Report: Peter K. Krahn, P.Eng., Acting Head, Inspections Division, Environment Canada, Pacific and Yukon Region, "Enforcement vs Voluntary Compliance", March 1998.]

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, (CEPA), will bow to the Accord and so will the federal government's ability to set and enforce standards.

Section 2(l) of Bill C-32 will make the CEPA subserviant to interprovincial agreements. Environment Canada has already agreed to leave national guidelines on particulates (air pollution) to the Accord process rather than set them itself. Although Canada does not have the constitutional right to set particulate standards (it is not in CEPA), it does have the right to set standards for endocrine disruptors such as dioxin and PCBs. However, it is likely the provinces will want the lead on setting regulations on these substances.The CEPA will be further weakened and Canada's position at international negotiations on persistent organic pollutants will be compromised.

The provinces have already eviscerated their environmental protection departments and the Accord will not make more money available to them for environmental protection.

Ontario has cut its Ministry of Environment by 36.2% and its Ministry of Natural Resources by over 40%. Between 1992 and 1997, Quebec cut 66%. Alberta has cut over 30% and Newfoundland, 60%. [From Intervenor 22#5&6, 1997 and 23#1, 1998.]

The Ontario Provincial Auditor and the Ontario Environmental Commissioner have chronicled the environmental mismanagement of one province...

There is a lack of current data on natural resources and on post-project evaluations. [OPA Report, 1998]

The MNR refused to administer sections of the federal Fisheries Act, leaving fish habitat unprotected. [OEC Report, 1997]

The Ministry of Environment is relying more and more on voluntary agreements, especially regarding air pollution. [OEC Report, 1997]

The MOE has given no details of how it plans to reduce smog to its own targets. [OEC Report, 1997]

The MOE is not tracking total loadings of industrial discharges into waterways, and does not monitor persistent toxics in effluents of sewage treatment plants. [OEC Report, 1997]

The effect of cutbacks is to rely on voluntary programs, but evidence shows they don't work without enforcement. The Accord will increase reliance on voluntary measures alone.

Only 86 of the 708 companies participating in Environment Canada's "climate change voluntary program" actually came up with a plan to cut greenhouse gases. Only 35 received a passing grade in a study done by the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development. [Reported in Toronto Star, September 24 1998]

Data from KMPG studies in 1995 and 1996 show that voluntary programs are ranked by industry as one of the least significant reasons for improving environmental performance. Compliance with regulations was one of the most important. [KMPG Chartered Accountants, "The 1996 KPMG Canadian Environmental Management Survey."]

It is naive to believe the provinces are not susceptible to the goals of industries providing jobs in their backyards.

The Accord will help satisfy the goal of at least one industry. According to Alain Perez of the Canadian Petroleum Institute, "Our first priority is getting rid of federal legislation that uses its jurisdiction over interprovincial trade to get at the formulation of auto fuels."

David McLaren is the communications coordinator at CELA