Show me the money!

Show me the money!

By Jason Unger, Staff Counsel

Dealing daily with policy and regulation it is easy to get bogged down in the nuances and details of policy while blissfully ignoring the elephant in the room, i.e., money.  More specifically, this elephant is the importance of money to governance and regulation.  The issue of money and its relevance to effective governance is acknowledged in several recent environmental assessment decisions and expert reports.  But acknowledgment of an issue only takes us so far.  A major difficulty lies in the fact that there are few legal mechanisms to address this issue.  Some recent and high profile instances where government budgets for governance were front and centre include:

1.  The Joint Review Panel for the Mackenzie Gas Project final report, which stated:

The Panel has recommended that the Government of Canada engage in the activities and commit the funding required to implement things it has already committed to do, such as fulfilling its obligations under the Species at Risk Act, the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, and the Protected Areas Strategy. The Panel has also recommended that the Government of the Northwest Territories fully meet the needs of existing programs and services, ensure that Project demands during the construction phase do not impair these programs and services, and mitigate Project impacts as it has committed to do under the Socio-Economic Agreement. In recognition of the limited fiscal capacity of the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Panel has recommended a revenue sharing agreement with the Government of Canada. In the Panel’s view, there is an obligation on the part of Canada, which would be the chief beneficiary of Project revenues to governments, to ensure that those jurisdictions that must bear the costs of the Project are able to do so.

The Government of Canada indicated they would “consider” the recommendation going forward.

2.  The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act Joint Panel made the following money related requirement a precondition to proceeding with further development in the Suffield National Wildlife Area:

The Suffield Environmental Advisory Committee, established under the 1975 Agreement allowing gas production in the present-day National Wildlife Area, is not able to oversee a development of this magnitude at present. Its role must be clarified and it must be resourced adequately by the governments of Canada and Alberta to be able to ensure proper regulatory oversight of the proposed project.  [emphasis added]

The government has yet to formally respond to this report.

3.  The 2010 Royal Society of Canada report on the environmental and health impacts of oil sands development observed:

The capacity of AENV, SRD, and the ERCB to respond to the technical demands of issuing approvals for the large number of new oil sands developments has been a concern” and cited the 2006 Radke Report that noted “Departments lack capacity to complete Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), to complete technical studies such as those involving instream flows, to focus on cumulative effects and to develop policy in a timely fashion.”

While everyone acknowledges the importance of money to governance there appears to be little appetite to do much about it.  Yearly budgets are usually uninformative and lacking in detail.  It would be relatively easily to provide biannual reporting on detailed spending within departments along with assessments of whether budget requirements were adequate to meet the demands and objectives of specific programs.   This reporting could incorporate spending by industry and other levels of government.  For reasons of certainty and clarity this reporting requirement should be legislatively entrenched.  This is just one small step in increasing the level transparency and accountability for outcomes.

So if government “x” proclaims to be effectively regulating something and yet cuts monitoring funding year after year and government “y” proclaims to care about species at risk and spends a pittance to back it up, citizens are informed and can make their choices at the ballot box.

Rather than just raising our eyebrows when we are told we will be getting a “world-class” monitoring system for the oil sands, we should proclaim, “show me the money”.

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