Accountability, where art thou?

When auditors general look at climate plans across this great land, there seems to be a universal refrain: “Recommendation: Improve Planning—Repeated; Recommendation: Improve Monitoring Processes—Repeated.”

As far as slogans go, it could use some work. Messaging aside, they do have a point.

The latest iteration of these recommendations comes in a scathing review of Alberta’s climate strategy from provincial Auditor General Merwan Saher. His report chides the province for having no apparent plan to implement or monitor its climate strategy, more than six years after it was introduced in 2008.

“Without an implementation plan that includes criteria to select and evaluate actions, the government cannot know whether the actions it is funding will help Alberta achieve its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and whether it is doing so cost-effectively,” he explains. “Without a clear process for monitoring its progress, the government cannot know if the actions it is funding are yielding the results it expects.” This despite repeated warnings from his office in the past.

The government has yet to issue a single public report on the 2008 strategy, which Saher finds “amazing” (as in, completely unbelievable). The audit also found the government’s review and renewal of the strategy to be poorly coordinated, with different groups working on different sectors without much in the way of a common approach or oversight.

Much of this was echoed in Toronto this week, where the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario released his own report on insufficient provincial planning.

The issues these reports raise will sound eerily familiar if you’ve attempted to follow climate policy at the federal level. Saher’s report reads much like years of audits from Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD).

Ironically, just days before the most recent CESD audit of Canada’s climate strategy was released, the Harper Government repealed one of the best accountability tools in their toolbox. A year later they shut down the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, another vital resource for open and informed debate about Canada’s response to climate change.

A federal audit nowadays would be very slim indeed. There is little to report on. Nor is there any discernable plan to meet Canada’s emissions commitments.

Time for shirtless hordes?

Questions of process, planning and transparency around climate policies may not inspire shirtless hordes the way Rob Ford’s antics have. But both are fundamentally about accountability. If citizens are unable to assess a government’s progress, how can they hold them to account? (No doubt, some will see this as the government’s intention.)

(Photo: Veronica Henri, Toronto Sun)

But the issue is too important to let slide. As the Globe’s Jeffrey Jones notes, continued bungling of the climate file is not just bad news for the environment, but for the economy as well.

We may not yet be in the shirtless phase of public indignation, but frustration over governments’ lackadaisical response to the serious risks of climate change is certainly deepening.

Ministers ignore the auditors’ refrain at their peril.


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