Edmonton

Environment minister defends dismantling arm's-length industry monitor

Alberta’s environment minister is defending her decision to disband the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, saying the move was a way to streamline operations and increase efficiency.

'There is just no need to be outsourcing core government business,' environment minister Shannon Phillips said

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips fired back at former AEMERA chairman Lorne Taylor on Friday, saying her decision to disband the agency was based on good governance. (CBC)

Alberta's environment minister is defending her decision to disband the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency, saying the move will streamline operations and increase efficiency.

The agency's former chairman, Lorne Taylor, called the change "a house of cards that will collapse under scrutiny and the pressure of local communities and stakeholders."

He said a new government-led monitoring system will not be based on a foundation of independence and transparency, and that the move to disband the AEMERA came as a total surprise.

Phillips fired back Friday, saying an external review involving AEMERA staff and board members identified a number of unnecessary duplications.

"The reason why we took this decision was because environmental monitoring is core government business, like public safety, like public health," Phillips told the CBC's Edmonton AM. "We take our responsibility very seriously with respect to monitoring, and there is just no need to be outsourcing core government business.

"As for this charge of political interference, I would argue that's pretty rich, coming from a previous PC environment minister."

Science advisory panel will remain, minister says

Taylor said the government would have more credibility by having an "independent and transparent" agency such as AEMERA. But Phillips said the reason the agency was at arm's-length to begin with was because the previous government "failed to achieve any level of credibility" with environmental monitoring.

As for this charge of political interference, I would argue that's pretty rich, coming from a previous PC environment minister.- Environment Minister Shannon Phillips

Phillips said there were some good aspects of AEMERA, such as the science advisory panel, which will remain.

The panel will now provide advice to the chief scientist on what should be monitored and how frequently monitoring should take place. The panel will then assess how that work is being done, she said.

Phillips also said she has asked the auditor general to re-examine the panel within 24 months to check on it's progress. She said the government will be able to respond to issues faster under this new model, which she said maintains scientific independence.

"We believe that we can continue the reporting to Albertans piece of it through the science advisory panel … but eliminate some of the extras that are completely unnecessary, and for which I have not a whole lot of patience when we have a massive multi-billion dollar deficit."

now