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Environmental Commissioner Julie Gelfand speaks about the 2014 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Enlightened self-interest is a good thing. The federal government would benefit from a much larger dose of it, in particular on climate change, carbon emissions, the oil sands and the environment as a whole, as is manifest from the report of Julie Gelfand, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. The office is part of the Auditor-General's department, and this is the first such report since her appointment.

The government's plans for limiting carbon emissions are vague and incomplete. Even at that, the work is lagging behind schedule. There is no clear path forward. And much of whatever progress Canada has made on these matters has been accomplished by the provincial governments, not Ottawa.

Leona Aglukkaq, the Minister of the Environment, had nothing to say when Ms. Gelfand's report came out last Tuesday. When she was questioned on the report in the House of Commons on Wednesday, she could not displace the impression that draft carbon regulations had been languishing for more than a year and disclosed only to a few interested parties: some representatives of the oil and gas industry and the government of Alberta.

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Ms. Aglukkaq's defence amounted to saying that we are waiting to see what the United States will do: "This is a continental issue and we need a North American-wide solution. We feel it is best to align with the United States."

Such silence and delay give Canada and Canadian oil a bad name, not least in the U.S. They amount to damaging weapons in the hands of the American opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would benefit both Canada and the U.S. Yes, Canada has an oil industry. Yes, Canada needs an oil industry. But we can't pretend that industry does not have carbon consequences, or a need for policies to mitigate them.

The federal Conservatives should be especially attentive to the oil sands. In 2012, the governments of Canada and Alberta agreed to joint monitoring of the effects of the oil sands on air, water, biodiversity and habitat. Ms. Gelfand's report shows that there has been some procrastination on this monitoring of Canada's most controversial energy source. But the commissioner found that most of the projects had been implemented, albeit with delays and uncertainty about further progress. For example, it took too long to finalize a contract with a laboratory to analyze the effects of certain hydrocarbons that have been linked to deformities in fish.

In response to evidence and policy, the European Union is showing a new and welcome receptiveness to Canadian oil. The Harper government needs to apply such an approach more broadly.

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