The federal government isn't ready to handle a major oil spill in Canada's waters, even though the coast guard hears of a spill a day on average, the country's environmental auditor says.


Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan speaks following the release of his fall report at the National Press Theatre on Tuesday in Ottawa. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

The audit presented Tuesday by Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan also concludes the government does not have a plan or the right information to deal with the effects of climate change.

Most of the reported oil spills in Canadian waters are small, Vaughan said.  

"However, given the findings of this audit, I am troubled that the government is not ready to respond to a major spill," he said.

Meanwhile, climate change is already affecting Canada in the form of more severe weather events in the Atlantic region and prolonged drought in the Prairies, along with greater losses of Canada's boreal forests from pests and forest fires, as well as the thawing of permafrost in Canada's North.

He noted the government committed most recently in 2007 to creating a climate change strategy, but has yet to implement it.

"Climate change will affect every department and agency, and the reasons for a strategy is to make sure different departments know what they're doing and make sure they don't trip over each other," Vaughan said.

The audit comes amid heavy criticism of the federal government as Environment Minister John Baird heads to international climate change negotiations this week in Cancun, Mexico.

In response to Vaughan’s report, Baird said the government is listening to the recommendations and is already taking action on its environmental priorities.

Fresh-water monitoring inadequate


A tanker spills oil off Australia in March 2010. Canada is not ready to face a major petroleum disaster in its waters, an audit has found. ((Associated Press))

World political leaders at the United Nations conference are trying to hammer out a new deal on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

Baird said he wants a new, international binding agreement that will see emissions stabilize and then decline, but he wants it to apply to all emitters, even developing nations. Many less developed countries such as China, South Africa, India and Brazil were not required to limit their emissions under the Kyoto protocol.

Vaughan's audit found that the coast guard has not done a national risk assessment of oil spills from ships since 2000, and that its national emergency response plan is out of date.

In addition, the coast guard does not have a reliable system to track spills. As a result, it cannot accurately determine the number of spills that occur each year, the size of those spills, their environmental impacts or how many required on-site responses, the audit said.

The report found Environment Canada is not adequately monitoring Canada's fresh water resources, and has not defined its responsibilities for water monitoring, particularly on federal lands such as First Nations reserves, Canadian Forces bases, as well as national parks and wildlife areas.