The federal government is transferring billions in gas tax funds to cities with little idea of what happens to the money, according to a new report from the Environment Commissioner.
The $2-billion-a-year gas tax transfer is a popular program with mayors because the money can be used without having federal officials approve each project in advance. However Infrastructure Canada is supposed to gather data from municipalities on projects after the fact each year in order to report to Parliament on what was accomplished.
Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand says that's not happening.
The report criticized Infrastructure Canada's approach to managing this reporting, but also noted that many municipalities simply aren't providing Ottawa with the promised reports on what they did with the cash and how environmental goals were achieved.
In two related reports released Tuesday that deal with infrastructure and severe weather, Ms. Gelfand's team – which operates as part of the Auditor-General's office – criticized federal departments for not doing enough to compile important data on the state of Canada's infrastructure. Ms. Gelfand also said the federal government needs to do more to ensure climate change is top of mind in infrastructure decisions. Specifically, the commissioner recommended a greater focus on infrastructure that mitigates the effects of climate change and that the National Building Code should be updated to include climate change trends.
"Overall, we found that although billions of dollars have been allocated to programs with objectives to improve environmental sustainability, Canadians do not have a consolidated national picture of the extent to which these objectives have been achieved," the commissioner reported Tuesday.
The reports come as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to meet with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on Friday in Winnipeg. Ottawa, the provinces and municipalities are currently negotiating new rules as to how billions in promised new federal infrastructure cash will be spent.
The March 22 federal budget promised to double federal spending on infrastructure to more than $120-billion over 10 years.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said he agreed with the report's recommendations. He said gas tax money is going to municipal projects like transit and wastewater treatment but the government is working to improve data collection and reporting on how infrastructure funds are spent.
On the issue of severe weather, the report notes that the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program provided more funding to cover the cost of severe weather in the past six years – at $3.3-billion – than it has over the program's first 39 years combined.
To illustrate the importance of mitigation infrastructure, the report says a government document estimates the $63-million cost of building the Manitoba Red River Floodway in 1960 has saved $8-billion by 2008 in avoided damage.
A third report released Tuesday by the commissioner said Health Canada should be doing a better job of detecting health risks related to chemicals in consumer products and cosmetics.
The report expressed concern that the department does not regularly test cosmetic products to verify the accuracy of product levels or to check for banned substances. The commissioner's office says Health Canada should inform consumers that it does not regularly test consumer products for restricted substances.