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Speech

Notes for Remarks by
The Honourable Peter Kent, P.C., M.P.,
Minister of the Environment,
At the Canadian Club
Toronto, Ontario
October 9, 2012

I am delighted to be here today.

Before entering political life, I attended many lunches at the Canadian Club, listening to illustrious individuals expound on a range of topics. To now be the one at the podium is a great privilege. And I’ll do my best to be as illustrious an expounder as possible.

Since I took on this portfolio in January 2011, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about environmental issues--something my long-suffering family will certainly confirm.

The Harper Government has an impressive record of achievement.

My challenge today is to tell the story of Environment Canada in a way that inspires you... that makes you understand--and take pride in--the degree to which your country is a world leader on so many environmental issues. I am going to try my best to do that here.

Through our expert scientists and using the best available research, Environment Canada provides Canadians with policies and regulations that work. Our science ensures you timely weather forecasts. And it advances our ability to monitor changes in the environment. We place a high value on enforcement to ensure our actions have meaning. All of this helps to make us a World Class Regulator.

We provide strong leadership in protecting endangered species and our nation’s rich biodiversity... in land conservation through the creation of a record number of new parks and through partnership with organizations like the Nature Conservancy of Canada... in state-of-the art chemicals management planning... and in the measures we have taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which have helped bring us half-way towards out target for 2020.

But that is not all.

We are also active on the international stage... honouring our United Nations commitments under the Copenhagen Accord... funding programs to promote sustainable agriculture and to protect forests in developing countries... participating in global sustainable development summits such as Rio+20... and working with continental counterparts in the United States and Mexico to address a shared environmental agenda, and with our American colleagues regarding the protection of the Great Lakes.

We can be proud of what we’ve accomplished. And all the more so because we’ve persevered at a time when public and private sector budgets are very lean and we must be as efficient as possible. We have done all this in a way that complements and supports our economic agenda.

This Government understands that an economy is very much like the ecosystems we work so hard to protect: changes in one part of the food chain have to be carefully managed to avoid creating new challenges elsewhere.

For example, Canadian companies... the companies that create Canadian jobs... compete against those from countries that are not subject to the same environmental standards and therefore do not have the same fixed costs.

We can also be proud of the degree to which collaboration, consultation and partnership frame our approach to the environment. Granted, it sometimes takes a little longer and it can get a little messy--to say the least. But there’s just no other way for a world-class regulator like Canada to proceed.

Our success with water demonstrates that we know how to walk the talk.

Over the summer, we finally tackled one of the largest single sources of water pollution, introducing the first national standards for wastewater treatment. These standards align us with the United States and the European Union and ensure that untreated and under-treated sewage are not dumped in our country’s waterways.

Framing the new regulation, we made absolutely certain that we heard the views of a range of stakeholders, communities and partners. That means that, while things didn’t proceed especially smoothly or quickly, it’s an extremely robust end result.

That progress with wastewater--and the alignment with international standards--will contribute to Canada’s implementation of the renewed Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which Canada and the United States enhanced last month.

I don’t need to tell anyone here today how important the Great Lakes are as a source of drinking water... a resource for agriculture... a route for transportation... as well as home to around 150 species of fish and 3,500 plant and animal species.

Obviously, a great deal has changed since our two nations first signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement forty years ago. But what hasn’t changed since 1972 is our shared commitment to protect the world’s largest surface freshwater system and the health of the surrounding communities.

The revised terms include provisions to address such issues as aquatic invasive species, habitat degradation and the effects of climate change. They reinforce ongoing efforts to deal with harmful algae, toxic chemicals and discharges from vessels using the lakes.

We’ve acted fast to deliver on our renewed commitment.

Today, the Government is launching the Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative. We’ll invest $16 million over the next four years to address the re-emergence of the toxic and nuisance algae caused by phosphorous discharges.

The impact of algae is greatest in Lake Erie, which will be the principal focus of this program. But the plan is to develop a base of knowledge and strategy that we can use in other Great Lakes as well.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is also serving as the foundation for the development of a renewed Canada-Ontario Agreement respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. This new federal-provincial agreement will synchronize our efforts to deliver on the commitments of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Again, collaborative partnership will be the key to success.

As it was only last month when we joined the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and its American counterpart along with public and private partners to protect the Flathead River Valley in British Columbia. This is one of North America’s most iconic wild places. Our joint investment of over $10 million is not only good for Canadians, it has international implications. It helps to ensure clean drinking water for over 100,000 Americans.

And there is more.

These days, when I talk with people who know Lake Simcoe well and have spent time there, they’re always happy to report that they are now catching pike and small-mouthed bass again. And the lake is no longer clogged with algae.

We’re making progress remediating other lakes as well.

In August, Prime Minister Harper introduced the next phase of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative. Over the next five years, another $18 million will be spent building on the results we’ve already achieved there in improving the quality of the water, including increased investments in stewardship projects.

And under the St. Lawrence Action Plan, renewed last year, we are focusing on comprehensive monitoring with a view to biodiversity conservation, improved water quality and sustainable use of that great river.

Environment Canada’s Chemical Management Plan plays a crucial role in preserving water quality as well.

It contains controls to limit the use of toxic chemicals like Bisphenol A and prevent them from getting into freshwater. By further restricting and regulating the use of phosphates in household cleaning products, detergents and laundry soap, we’re addressing the growth of algae that they cause.

Of course water quality monitoring is at the heart of the ongoing work we’re doing to ensure the environmental integrity of Canada’s oil sands.

The oil sands are an important driver for our domestic economy, but they must be developed in a responsible way.

That means ensuring that we have the best scientific information available on the cumulative impacts of oil sands projects.

We’re equally determined to work in partnership with Alberta and a broad range of stakeholders--including environmental groups, scientists, communities, Aboriginal peoples and corporations--to make certain our solutions are comprehensive, rigorous and sustainable.

In February, we announced the Canada-Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring. Environment Canada is working closely with its provincial counterparts to phase in enhanced monitoring over the next few years. This new monitoring system will be scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated and transparent.

I was in Fort McMurray in July touring some of the newest monitoring facilities with Alberta Environment Minister McQueen. And I have to say we were both impressed with how much has been done. But there still remains much to do.

We’re integrating and coordinating all the various monitoring activities. We will be transparent with that data to ensure that we have the most scientifically-credible picture of the water, air, land and biodiversity issues in the region.

This is the only way to understand the cumulative effects of oil sands development in a timely context. We are deploying Environment Canada’s world class scientific capacity and expertise and working closely with Alberta.

We’ve got the support of industry too. Oil sands producers have committed to help fund the enhanced monitoring system being advanced through this joint federal-provincial effort.

The latest statistics show Canada’s efforts on greenhouse gas emissions are paying off.

Over the past five years, we have made significant progress in de-linking greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth.

And looking forward, our efforts to date have taken us halfway towards meeting our 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions.

This is the result of teamwork: the measures that the federal and provincial governments have put in place and, more importantly, how consumers and businesses have responded to these measures and risen to the challenge.

Last month, we tabled final regulations to bring greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electric power generation down to the same level as natural gas sources. These new regulations are the culmination of a very long and inclusive process--we received five thousand responses to our initial draft and we took the time necessary to consider that feedback.

The end result--with which we’re very pleased--was shaped by the fact that each province and each power utility have a very different profile.

The new coal regulations are an important step toward reducing Canada greenhouse gas emissions and Environment Canada is already well underway with a plan to achieve the same results in the oil and gas sector.

In July 2012, the Government of Canada released proposed regulations that would implement new standards to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the marine sector. That builds out on the new tailpipe standards we’ve already introduced for cars and heavy trucks.

Canada partnered with the United States on vehicle emissions standards and, in February, we framed our shared air quality agenda by joining a new, multilateral Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants.

Given all the emphasis I’ve placed on collaboration and common purpose--and the fact that we’re now near the mid of October--I’d be remiss if I didn't spend some time giving you an update on our international environmental engagement, specifically the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) summit to be held in Doha, Qatar, this December.

Canada remains as committed as ever to working within the United Nations framework to address global climate change.

All our hard work to reduce our domestic greenhouse gas emissions has been driven by the 2020 target that Canada took under the Copenhagen Accord.

Last year in Durban, Canada demonstrated our commitment to action playing an influential role in developing a new climate change platform that brings us closer to seeing all major emitters agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So, yes, we’re already gearing up for COP 18 in Doha. And we’re looking forward to the opportunity to build upon the success at Durban where a process was set committing all major emitters to a new international agreement. This was a long standing Canadians objective. 

Canada also continues to work closely with key players through the G8, G20, the Major Economies Forum and others to develop practical initiatives to address greenhouse gases and climate change.

In particular, in February, Canada played a strong leadership role in co-founding a new, multilateral partnership, the global Climate and Clean Air Coalition. This new partnership is action oriented and is meant to address short-lived climate pollutants--which is important as it will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a means towards addressing some of the effects these pollutants have on health, agriculture and other environmental impacts.

I will conclude my remarks now in the hope that I’ve had some success in telling you the story of Canada and its environmental success.

We are not about empty promises or vague discussions on the environment. We are about real and pragmatic actions. And we are proceeding in a practical, effective manner that takes into account the environmental and economic realities that we face. This approach will ensure that our efforts are balanced and truly sustainable for Canadians. And it will continue to achieve results.

Whether it is water quality... greenhouse gas emission reductions... or world-class monitoring in the oil sands... we have made progress in a consistent, systematic, science-based manner.

This is progress that we must all take pride in. I know I do.

Thank you!